Making the grade with K-12 projects: codes and standards

With state-of-the-art learning facilities, sustainability concerns, and modern design, K-12 schools can be just as advanced as colleges and universities and—for consulting-specifying engineers—just as demanding. The following focuses on codes and standards in K-12 schools.


Mike Barbes, AECOM; Ben Hobbs, CMTA Consulting Engineers; Timothy J. LaRose, Jensen Hughes; Jason Moyer, Brinjac Engineering, and Jon Rasmussen, DLR Group (left to right) discuss making the grade with K-12 projects.Respondents

Mike Barbes, PE, LC, Senior Electrical Engineer, AECOM, Atlanta

Ben Hobbs, PE, Mechanical Engineer, CMTA Consulting Engineers, Lexington, Ky.

Timothy J. LaRose, PE, Vice President Development, Education, JENSEN HUGHES, Warwick, R.I.

Jason Moyer, PE, PMP, STS, Senior Mechanical Manager, Brinjac Engineering, Baltimore

Jon Rasmussen, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Energy+Engineering Leader/Senior Associate, DLR Group, Denver

The West-MEC Southwest Campus design, located in Buckeye, Ariz., is intended to exude energy and encourage students to expand their career horizons, with sustainable features, state-of-the-art learning spaces, and bold colors throughout. Courtesy: DLR GroupCSE: Please explain some of the codes, standards, and guidelines you use during the design process. Which codes/standards should engineers be most aware of in their design of engineered systems in K-12 buildings?

LaRose: The model building and fire codes throughout the country are typically in the International Code Council and NFPA families. Most jurisdictions adopt the International Building Code (IBC), International Fire Code (IFC), and/or NFPA 101: Life Safety Code/NFPA 1: Fire Code. Those model codes reference and amend other codes and standards, the most common pertaining to fire protection systems would be NFPA 13: Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems and NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. There are other NFPA codes and standards that designers should be aware of, such as NFPA 20: Standard for the Installation of Stationary Pumps for Fire Protection, NFPA 24: Standard for the Installation of Private Fire Service Mains and Their Appurtenances, NFPA 80: Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives, and NFPA 2001: Standard on Clean Agent Fire Extinguishing Systems. For example, when pertaining to theater design, it is important to know the requirements of NFPA 80 related to the design of the proscenium opening protection if a fire-rated curtain is the protection method.

Moyer: While complying with discipline-specific code requirements for MEP, other codes and standards need to be considered closely. The International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and ASHRAE 90.1-2016: Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings need to be reviewed closely to address changes made since the last editions of the codes, particularly with lighting controls (daylight harvesting) and minimum performance requirements.

Hobbs: The codes and guidelines that immediately come to mind as ones I reference on nearly a daily basis are ASHRAE 62.1: Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality, ASHRAE 15: Safety Standard for Refrigeration Standards/ASHRAE 34: Designation and Classification of Refrigerants for refrigeration requirements and standards, IECC/ASHRAE 90.1 for energy efficiency requirements, IBC’s Chapter 7: Fire and Smoke Protection Features for MEP system building penetration requirements, and the International Mechanical Code’s exhaust/ventilation code sections. ASHRAE 62.1 and IECC/ASHRAE 90.1 are most certainly the most referenced codes in the design process for me. A good fundamental understanding of these codes will go a long way in alleviating large design changes and can make the engineer a welcomed asset to multiple project clients.

CSE: NFPA has issued the latest version of NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code in the 2016 edition. How do you anticipate these changes to impact future K-12 project design?

LaRose: Due to the delay in adoption of referenced codes and standards, the changes in the 2016 edition of NFPA 72 likely will not hit the construction market for several years. However, the biggest changes to education (K-12) occupancies is likely the changes in the 2012 IBC/IFC and 2015 NFPA 101 emergency voice/alarm communication system requirements for all new K-12 occupancies. Some jurisdictions may reserve or amend these requirements, but it is good design to have all new K-12 schools and retrofit fire alarm projects be designed as EV/ACS.

The West-MEC Southwest Campus design, located in Buckeye, Ariz., is intended to exude energy and encourage students to expand their career horizons, with sustainable features, state-of-the-art learning spaces, and bold colors throughout. Courtesy: DLR GroupCSE: What are the most challenging codes and standards to follow for K-12 school structures? What makes them so challenging?

Hobbs: ASHRAE 62.1 and IECC/ASHRAE 90.1 can be the most challenging codes. These codes address MEP items, and codes that heavily impact building design almost certainly will directly impact other disciplines in the design process. From presenting HVAC equipment options to meet code to creating the need for conversations regarding newly added required services, such as commissioning, these codes are always at the center of important design conversations, from design all the way through to postconstruction.

CSE: How are codes, standards, or guidelines for energy efficiency impacting the design of such buildings?

Moyer: The more stringent energy-conservation codes are impacting the design in a positive way, in that our designs are becoming more efficient in the use of the spaces due to their significant impact on the mechanical/electrical systems and energy consumption. However, these requirements also increase the complexity of the systems, controls, and equipment. Therefore, they increase the cost of the project, which budgets may not have fully anticipated.

Hobbs: The biggest impacts I see in my day-to-day projects arise from commissioning requirements, bringing existing building envelopes up to code, and economizer requirements. Commissioning is still new to a lot of owners, and helping them understand the value of the process is not always easy until they are a part of it. Once accepted as code, I do feel owners will take over buildings that perform better and receive a higher level of vetting that benefits the owner in the long run. Bringing the building envelope up to code is a recent requirement in Kentucky. Owners and architects are not always prepared for the cost and additional design required to do this. At the end of the day, I feel it is a very worthwhile requirement—it is just one that everyone has to accept as a requirement. Lastly, the economizer is always something I look at when choosing my code path between ASHRAE and IECC. Sometimes I find the requirement difficult to do and unnecessary when using certain kinds of systems, like geothermal. This requirement can cause impacts in aesthetics and ceiling height requirements, due to the extra ductwork and exterior-building air terminals required to create the ability to operate in economizer mode.

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