Engineering in K-12 schools

Engineers offer practical advice and best practices on how to design HVAC, electrical, lighting, and fire protection systems in K-12 schools.


 Keith R. Hammelman, PE, Vice president, CannonDesign, Aurora, Ill.Robert V. Hedman, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Senior associate, Kohler Ronan LLC, Danbury, Conn.Pete Jefferson, PE, LEED AP, HBDP, Principal/vice president, M.E. Group, Overland Park, Kan.Essi Najafi, Principal, Global Engineering Solutions, Rockville, Md.Rodney V. Oathout, PE, CEM, LEED AP, Regional engineering leader/principal, DLR Group, Overland Park, Kan.Sunondo Roy, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Vice president, CCJM Engineers, Chicago, Il.

  • Keith R. Hammelman, PE, Vice president, CannonDesign, Aurora, Ill.
  • Robert V. Hedman, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Senior associate, Kohler Ronan LLC, Danbury, Conn.
  • Pete Jefferson, PE, LEED AP, HBDP, Principal/vice president, M.E. Group, Overland Park, Kan.
  • Essi Najafi, Principal, Global Engineering Solutions, Rockville, Md.
  • Rodney V. Oathout, PE, CEM, LEED AP, Regional engineering leader/principal, DLR Group, Overland Park, Kan.
  • Sunondo Roy, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Vice president, CCJM Engineers, Chicago, Il.

CSE: Please describe a recent K-12 school project you’ve worked on—share details about the project, including building location, size, etc.
The rural Sangre De Cristo project required unique considerations and achieved LEED Gold certification by implementing geothermal displacement ventilation; heat-recovery technologies; radiant heating and demand-based controls for lighting; and integrated daylighting strategies. Courtesy: M.E. Group

Keith R. Hammelman: A project for the Cayman Islands Ministry of Education, High School Campus System, consisted of three campuses, each housing 1,000 students. The 185,700-sq-ft Clifton Hunter Campus has seven campus buildings housing administration, a gymnasium, classrooms, and performing and applied arts spaces. The construction magnitude was unique because of the relatively small Caribbean location and the building’s requirement to withstand a Category 5 hurricane (requiring emergency provisions for stand-alone operations). The project has on-site diesel fuel generators, fuel campus electrical distribution, hurricane cisterns for drinking and flushing water, and a full-campus chilled water system to last a minimum of five days. The campus design also faced challenges by local and maintenance forces that require relatively simple variable air volume (VAV) air handling units and air-cooled chillers.

Robert V. Hedman: Guilford High School in Guilford, Conn., is a new 215,000-sq ft school that was designed to meet the Connecticut High Performance Building Standards, which is equivalent to a U.S. Green Building Council LEED Silver rating. In addition to the standard programs, Guilford High School includes a robotics lab, welding shop, automotive shop, and a greenhouse.

Pete Jefferson: We got to celebrate the opening of three new PK-12 projects in eastern Colorado last fall. They ranged in size from 55,000 sq ft to 80,000 sq ft, and all are replacing existing facilities that were in really poor shape.

Sunondo Roy: CCJM is involved in the design of an annex to an existing Chicago Public School, Bell Elementary School. The project scope initially required tying plumbing and heating into the existing school’s infrastructure while the air side HVAC and electrical were to be new stand-alone RTU and new utility service. Based on existing conditions and infrastructure capabilities as well as field conditions, the plumbing and fire protection for the new annex ended up being served by a new utility service as well.

Essi Najafi: The historic 331,900-sq-ft Roosevelt High School in Washington, D.C., was constructed in 1932 and houses a traditional 9th through 12th grade high school program, as well as an evening part-time program for young adults. Combined, the two programs serve more than 1,500 students through a variety of programs and classes. The renovation program focuses on the reuse of the existing historic building’s resources, including the main academic building, gymnasium, and auditorium, and the insertion of new, contemporary facilities to form a completely new 21st-century, high-performance school.

Global Engineering Solutions is providing mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP) and fire protection engineering services for the design of new, high-performance building systems throughout the school. Originally conceived as LEED Gold, the project provided a unique opportunity to achieve LEED Platinum in a historic facility with a minimum increase in cost.

The historical significance of the school meant that little could be done to change the existing envelope, skylights, or roof to improve energy efficiency. However, the school’s location next to an open field allowed for the use of a geothermal system. The new system is a geothermal heat recovery variable refrigerant flow water-sourced system that uses geothermal heat dissipation via 253 vertically drilled heat dissipating ground wells, indoor variable refrigerant fan coil units connected to variable refrigerant flow water source heat recovery units, along with indoor/outdoor water sourced heat pump air handlers for fresh air. The system will be zoned so that heating or cooling within specific areas in the facility can be adjusted based on need and occupancy without impacting the remainder of the building or the overall HVAC system. The modularity of the system increases its reliability, while being less expensive to construct or operate than other geothermal systems.

The HVAC system serving the school’s atrium and natatorium required a careful design approach to realize the maximum possible energy efficiency and minimize energy usage. The three-story atrium features glass skylights covering the expanse of the roof. From an energy perspective, the atrium has a high solar load even during the winter heating months, which provides a unique opportunity to recover the heat and use the warm air in the energy recovery heat wheels of the rooftop units to preheat cold outdoor air in the winter prior to mechanically heating the air. The natatorium will also receive a dedicated system that has the ability to heat the pool water when the natatorium space has excess heat to expel.

The electrical system features a roof-mounted 265 kW photovoltaic solar panel system with the capacity to produce 345,000 kW per hour. The installation includes 864 solar panels, each producing 305 W. Interior lighting will be controlled by digital lighting control panels programmed so that all lighting, except emergency nightlights, are automatically turned off outside normal operational hours.

In addition, a solar thermal water heating system will produce adequate hot water to heat showers, bathroom lavatories, and kitchen facilities. The system uses evacuated tube technology to capture transfer solar energy to a circulating water loop. Because the school’s hot water demand is higher during the winter months when the school is in full session, and lower during the summer when the school is in recess, the system’s solar collectors will be placed to provide optimum energy capture during the winter months when the sun is at its lowest.

Water use will be reduced by 30% to 35% throughout the facility through the use of high-efficiency water closets, urinals, lavatories, and showers. A rainwater reclamation system will filter the water, process it to remove biological organisms and chemicals, and store it in underground cisterns for nonpotable use. An ultraviolet treatment will reduce the concentration of chemicals and biological organisms found in the water, and a dye injection system will be used to identify the water as reclaimed.

In summary, it is estimated sustainable features woven into the design of the MEP and fire protection will account for more than half of the points necessary for this historically significant facility to achieve LEED Platinum.

Rodney V. Oathout: An exciting DLR Group design that opened in August 2013 is the new Muriel Williams Battle High School in Columbia, Mo. This 301,500-sq-ft high school will serve 1,850 students in grades 9 through 12. It will allow the district’s two existing high schools that currently serve grades 10 through 12 to include 9th grade students. The design encompasses many sustainable features, including a ground-source heat pump system.

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