In one sense, schools face shrinking budgets like everyone else. From another angle, however, it appears that they are still more likely to allocate significant portions of those budgets for projects that a) look good in the community, and b) save money.
Comfort improvements are a pure bonus.
According to David Clark, vice president of systems sales and marketing for Johnson Controls, schools are still moving toward greener options, and buildings are beginning to meet LEED requirements and ASHRAE standards. “We expect high efficiency and sustainable energy solution opportunities to increase,” he said. “Schools have a vested interest to purchase the best possible equipment today, to ensure they receive the lowest total cost of ownership over the life of the product.”
“One of the main costs of operating a school building is energy consumption, and because heating and air conditioning systems run continuously from early morning to late at night, up to half of this expense is tied to HVAC operation,” added Michael Walker, director, product management and marketing, Lennox Commercial. “When budgets are tight and energy costs are increasing, many schools actually look for high-efficiency products that can help them reduce operating and maintenance costs today and over the long term.”
FUNDING ISSUESRegarding the big question of how to fund any given project, Clark called the challenges facing school districts “historic; funding is scarce for curriculum and core educational activities, let alone the facility maintenance.” Challenges include “unprecedented funding cuts, increased pressure from constituents, aging infrastructures and technology, and the demand to focus on doing more with less.
“It’s no surprise that the K-12 market is facing these challenges,” Clark continued. “But it also shouldn’t be a surprise that there are working and proven solutions that produce energy savings.”
Walker said schools “see the need to be conservative on future energy and maintenance expenditures, and are becoming more innovative in their thinking and stringent in their requirements. For instance, we see a strong interest in high-efficiency equipment, solar energy or sustainable solutions, and products that provide faster and less expensive maintenance. Schools know that by investing a little more upfront, they can help save money for years to come.”
In addition to looking for the right products, he said, “many schools are looking for innovative solutions to help them purchase this type of equipment.” Community funding opportunities, for example, have helped many districts afford greener energy solutions.
“Some are even leveraging partnerships with large corporations in the form of grants to help them go green in a socially responsible and affordable way,” Walker said. “Others are taking advantage of lease-purchase agreement performance contracts, which help them spend the dollars they anticipate saving from future operating budgets. Finally, some schools have found financing from their energy service providers, state or utility funding, and tax-exempt lease purchase agreements.”
CLIENT STRATEGIESThere is no silver bullet to solve school problems, Clark said. “We approach the many challenges schools are facing as opportunities; opportunities to deliver systems and solutions that improve efficiency, comfort, security, and the learning environment.
“Most of Johnson Controls’ offerings, like our Metasys® building management system, high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment, and technology-rich classroom solutions, enable schools to operate more sustainably. And studies prove that classroom performance is directly related to the classroom environment. New, efficient equipment can reduce lifecycle costs in addition to improving staff productivity and student performance.”
The Hardee County School District, he said, is an example of a district-wide equipment and controls upgrade that resulted in energy and operational savings of more than $3.1 million. “The savings paid for the improvements and yielded funds used for new laboratory equipment and academic materials.
“We’re also forging new relationships with companies that provide innovative solutions to K-12 schools. A great example is our partnership with SchoolDude, which provides web-based facility management tools to public and private schools,” Clark said.
“The bottom line is that schools are looking for ways to reduce their environmental footprint while saving money on energy and maintenance costs,” said Walker. “To achieve these goals, many realize that they must purchase higher performing and more expensive equipment to ensure they save money in the long run.
“The goal for many fiscally savvy schools is the lowest total cost of ownership, not the lowest initial equipment price.” This, he said, gives contractors the opportunity to sell high-efficiency equipment “like Lennox Energence® rooftop units, and sustainable energy solutions such as the SunSource® commercial energy solution.
“Because of their energy-saving operation and low-cost maintenance designs,” he said, “these products have a higher initial cost which helps contractors bring in more revenue while still giving their customers the lowest total cost of ownership. This is a winning situation for everyone involved.”
SUSTAINABLE INFLUENCEAs you may already have surmised, “the move toward sustainable solutions has had a major impact for many school districts and how they approach their HVAC solutions,” said Walker. “As educators of our children and often the community at large, schools understand that they have the opportunity to set an incredible example for students, community members, and local businesses with regard to sustainable practices and environmental responsibility.”
The example they set goes beyond purchasing products because they are green or sustainable, Walker said. “There are so many long-term cost-effective solutions available on the market today that schools can achieve both a sustainable and financial goal. Many businesses can look at the solutions schools have implemented and have confidence that these proven systems can achieve the same type of great social and monetary returns for their companies as well.”
(For additional information on sustainable projects, see the feature article “Sustainable Schools Provide Growth” in this issue.)
There are challenges in every design process; schools are no exception. “Since any large project is often required to be publicly bid,” Walker said, “and most have a long list of contractors bidding on them, a contractor is left with balancing his responsibility to provide what is on the specification, versus using the lowest possible equipment price.”
The challenge comes, he said, when a specification is left open for interpretation. “Even though the contractor knows what is best for the school in terms of efficiency and features, they also want to make sure they are competitive enough in price to win the project. Since there is no discussion opportunity for the school district to make an informed decision after the fact, they need to know exactly what they want before the job is sent out to bid.”
Installing a large number of rooftop units within a specified time frame can also be a challenge, he said. “Most school remodeling projects are done during summer months, and scheduling enough contractors during various work phases takes a lot of strategic planning.”
Finally, since schools are bid under such tight budget constraints, there is little flex room for unexpected and potentially costly occurrences. Careful planning, a well-written contract, and attention to detail are critical for any fast-paced, time- and budget-sensitive job.
“It starts with a fresh approach,” said Clark; “doing more with less and looking for new ways to achieve outcomes. Successful schools are rethinking and reprioritizing their budgeting process, while making investments in sustainable technologies and energy- efficient building systems and equipment.”
For more information, visit www.lennoxcommercial.com, www.johnsoncontrols.com, or www.schooldude.com