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School Construction 2004

August 12, 2004

Schools to experiment with sustainability

  • The state prepares to kick off a $1.5 million sustainable-schools pilot project
    O'Brien & Co.

     Terrace Park School
    Photo by Lara Swimmer
    A new pilot project will help the state to develop green building criteria for its schools. Terrace Park School in Mountlake Terrace uses carbon dioxide sensors to ensure good ventilation and save money.

    This past March we reported in the Daily Journal of Commerce on the development of voluntary green building criteria for Washington schools.

    The criteria are being developed through an initiative of the Washington Chapter for Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI) and facilitated by the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA).

    The criteria were drawn from California's Collaborative for High Performance Schools rating system, but revised to reflect conditions in Washington state schools.

    The committee responsible for this effort (which included architects, engineers, school facility planners, sustainable building consultants and state education officials) wanted to create a "benchmarking tool that enables ... all (Washington) schools, regardless of size or other variables, to achieve and measure sustainability."

    The resulting tool, now in draft form, is organized into five environmental categories: site, water, materials, energy and indoor environmental quality.

    One notable difference between the California and Washington programs is that the Washington system requires more points for certification (38 vs. 28). In addition, the Washington system focuses more on the specific project being certified, whereas the California system allows as many as 35 percent of the points toward certification to come from district-wide policies as opposed to project-specific actions.

    5 pilot projects

    Last spring the Legislature provided $1.5 million in the state Board of Education's capital budget for the development of a technical manual of comprehensive design standards for high performance and sustainable school buildings, and for five pilot projects to meet or exceed these standards.

    The Office of the Superintendent of Public Schools (OSPI) participated in the CEFPI/NEEA process, so the tool has been adopted as the Washington Sustainable Schools Protocol. Now, the Board of Education and OSPI are preparing to put the protocol to the test.

    Five school districts in the state are preparing to field-test the protocol in pilot projects. Participating districts will evaluate the protocol's rating system for usability as well as provide data on the benefits of implementing the protocol strategies in Washington schools.

    An example

    Pilot projects can be prospective (for buildings that are in planning or design), real-time (for short-duration studies completed during the data collection period) or retrospective (for buildings that are complete).

    Although the selected pilots are more complex, here is a simplified example.

    The protocol includes a credit in the energy category for installing an energy management system (EMS) tailored to the building's needs and systems.

    (An EMS system uses sensors to help track the operation of the building's heating and cooling systems. Such data can help indicate when a system is in need of adjustment or maintenance. Keeping systems operating at peak efficiency means saving energy.)

    In this example, pilot funds would be used to install an EMS in a school that does not have one. Data to be collected could include the description of EMS type and user-management interface, energy systems monitored and data points, estimated annual energy savings, a description of training provided to facilities-staff training, and an account of barriers encountered and lessons learned.

    Some of the data will be used to fine-tune the protocol. Other data will feed into a cost-benefit analysis of the protocol strategies. (In the example above, the cost-benefit analysis would yield a cost per square foot and an estimated payback period).

    This cost-benefit analysis, in turn, will be used to prepare a report to the Legislature on the costs and benefits of green building in Washington schools. The Legislature will use the report to help it chart a course for implementation of the program in the state's public schools.

    Grants average $250K

    "This effort is important because it tells us how to support the efficient use of environmental and energy resources when building and operating Washington schools," says Carolyn Tolas, vice president of the state Board of Education.

    School districts recently submitted their pilot program applications. Project selection is based on technical criteria that address the comprehensiveness of the approach, the quality of data to be produced and transferability of the strategies to other schools.

    Other criteria include diversity of school size, location and project type. Each selected school will receive a grant of an average of $250,000 based on the scope of the project. The money can be spent on studies, installations and design-process enhancements.

    "We wanted projects that would provide as much quantitative data as possible given the time frame, testing strategies that are transferable to other districts. Priority is given to pilots that incorporate multiple strategies within protocol categories," says Carter Bagg, the OSPI project manager.

    Projects begin soon

    Implementation plans for selected projects will be finalized later this month. These plans will delineate clearly what the districts must do to complete their project successfully within the short time period, as well as the types of technical and other assistance they can expect to receive as part of their participation. Schools will have access to technical assistance and other resources to ensure successful completion.

    Pilot projects will have up to one year to expend funds for "hardware" installation or other longer-term approved expenses. However, data collection for the legislative report will be taking place this summer and fall for presentation to the Legislature in early 2005.

    O'Brien & Co. with Olympic Associates Co. and Miller/Hull Partnership is managing the pilot project. The legislative report will be produced by Paladino and Co.

    For more information about the pilot program, including links to download the protocol documents, see the Washington Sustainable Schools Pilot Program Web site at www.olympic-18.com (User name: WSSP; password: school).

    Kathleen O'Brien is president of O'Brien & Co. on Bainbridge Island and secretary of the board of directors for the Cascadia Region Green Building Council.

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