What is a High Performance School?
Ask the Architect
by Frank Cunha III
What is a High Performance School?
A “High Performance School” is a well-designed facility can enhance performance and make education more enjoyable and rewarding. A “High Performance School” is healthy and thermally, visually, and acoustically comfortable. It is also energy, material, and water efficient. A “High Performance School” must be safe and secure; easy to maintain and operate; commissioned; environmentally responsive site. Most of all a “High Performance School” is one that teaches and is a community resource. It should also be stimulating as well as adaptable to changing needs.
Improved Student Performance
Evidence is growing that high performance schools can provide learning environments that lead to improved student performance. Recent studies show that effective daylighting has contributed to improved student test scores by 10-20%. Intuitively quieter, comfortable classrooms with good lighting and good air quality yield better students/teachers. Low- and no-emission building materials can reduce odors, sensory irritation, and toxicity hazards. Efficient windows also reduce outside noise distractions. Improved heating and cooling systems permit students to hear the teacher better and avoid room temperature swings. Adequate lighting improves students’ ability to read books and see the blackboard. Considerations for “High Performance Schools”include: siting; indoor environmental quality; energy; water; materials; community; faculty and student performance; commissioning; and facilities performance evaluation.
Siting is critical for “High Performance Schools” with regards to the environment, energy consumption, and indoor environmental quality, transportation, greenfields, endangered species, wetlands concerns, existing pollution on the site, and stormwater management. A key factor in site design is orientation of the building, which can influence passive heating, natural ventilation, and daylighting. Optimal orientation can reduce year-round heating and cooling costs and optimizes natural lighting. If possible orient buildings so that the majority of windows face either north or south. Strategic placement of vegetation can be used when this orientation cannot be utilized.
Positive affects on the energy and environmental performance of a school include primary consideration for the environmentally sound school building. A school building should complement its environment. Working around existing vegetation to shade building and outside cooling equipment to reduce HVAC load help ensure good environmental performance of school by lowering energy bills and reducing local pollution. Locating a school near public transportation and within walking distance to a majority of students will further reduce energy use, while lowering local traffic and pollution.
Stormwater management is vital to safety and ecological health of a school’s site. Moving stormwater quickly to gutters, downspouts, catch basins, and pipes increases water quantity and velocity requiring large and expensive drainage infrastructure. Water should be captured in cisterns and ponds, or absorbed in groundwater aquifers and vegetated areas. Remaining water runoff should be slowed down and spread across roof and paved surfaces evenly before entering bioswales and creeks. Perforated drainpipe and filters, and “Green” roofs promote water absorption.
“High Performance Schools” promote student safety and security. Visibility of school entrances from main office and general accessibility of the school grounds can affect security. Lighting quality in halls and corridors is also critical.
Indoor environmental quality (IEQ)
“High Performance Schools “ optimize IEQ by considering it throughout the design and construction process. IEQ includes indoor air quality; acoustics; daylighting; lighting quality; and thermal comfort. Benefits include: reduction in student and teacher absences; increase student performance; reduction of illnesses related to indoor toxins; improved teacher retention rates; reduced distractions; improved comfort levels; and maintenance of healthy students, teachers and staff.
Proper siting contributes to positive daylighting potentials and acoustics. Building envelope design affects thermal comfort, daylighting, and indoor air quality. Material choices can also have a positive affect on IEQ. Construction process and the operations and maintenance affect Indoor Air Quality. Key elements of building’s indoor environment affecting occupant comfort and health include: Thermal comfort – temperature, radiant heat, relative humidity, draftiness; light – amount and quality, lack of glare, direct sunlight; noise – levels and kinds, classroom acoustics, inside and outside sources; ventilation, heating & cooling – fresh air intake, re-circulation, exhaust; microbiologic agents – infectious disease, mold, bacteria, allergens; and chemical agents in air or surface dust –volatile organics (formaldehyde), pesticides, lead, asbestos, radon;
Ill health effects associated with poor IEQ can cause students, teachers, and administrative staff to experience a range of acute or chronic symptoms and illnesses including: headaches and fatigue (from VOCs and glare); irritation of eyes, nose, and throat (from VOCs, particles, low relative humidity); respiratory symptoms – allergic reactions (from mold, animal allergens, dust mites); breathing difficulties – increase in asthma symptoms (from allergens, particles, cold); increased transmission rates of colds and flu’s (due to poor ventilation); and poor IEQ can also lead to excessive exposure of classroom occupants to some carcinogens.
Important decisions school designers should pay particular attention to key buildings elements: building materials and surfaces (low-emitting for chemicals); ventilation systems (quiet, efficient filters, adequate fresh air); fenestration (adequate and operable windows); site drainage; envelope flashing and caulking; ande ase of maintenance for building components (e.g., floor cleaning, filter changing).
Common IEQ problems in classrooms include: excessive levels of volatile organic compounds, like formaldehyde, which can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation and pose cancer risks (these compounds are emitted from new pressed wood materials, and in some other building materials and furnishings, especially in new or remodeled classrooms); although classrooms have individual control of HVAC systems, these systems are often noisy and are not continuously operated (causing large swings in both temperature and humidity levels, and allowing indoor air pollutant levels to build up); moisture problems are sometimes present in roofing, floors, walls, and exterior doors; operable windows are often small or absent; siting can be problematic relative to pollutant and noise sources, poor site drainage, and shading.
It is critical to manage and conserve natural resources in “High Performance Schools.” This can be done by reducing carbon dioxide emissions by using renewable energy resources; integration of concerns with design process; building siting and orientation; buildings shape; and landscaping; lighting, heating, cooling and ventilation sources. Integrated design can yield long and short-term savings. Reduced heat from an energy efficient lighting system and good natural ventilation designs can reduce the cooling demand, and thus the size and cost of the air conditioning units. All members of the design team should meet early on in the planning process and continue to coordinate integrated design concepts throughout the project in order to reduce energy costs.
The end result of integrated design is reduced overall energy consumption, thus saving construction costs through the downsizing of the systems and on-going costs of operation through reduced utility bills.
Many programs are available to help schools build energy-efficient facilities. Educate students about energy issues and to install renewable energy systems in schools. By taking advantage of these programs, schools can realize cost savings, better educate their students and help to ensure a cleaner, more stable environment for the future.
During the rush to construct new school buildings, districts often focus on short-term construction costs instead of long-term, life-cycle savings. The key to getting a high-performance school is to ask for an energy-efficient design in your request for proposals (RFP) and to select architects who are experienced in making sure that energy considerations are fully addressed in design and construction. Unless a school district directs its architect to design energy-efficient buildings, new schools may be as inefficient as old ones, or they may incorporate only modest energy efficiency measures.
Total construction costs for energy-efficient schools are often the same as costs for traditional schools, but most architects acknowledge a slight increase in the capital costs maybe necessary (as some energy efficient building features may cost more.) Efficient buildings have reduced building energy loads and take better advantage of local climate. A properly day lit school, for example, with reduced electrical lighting usage and energy efficient windows can permit downsized cooling equipment. Savings from this equipment helps defer costs of daylighting features. Even when construction costs are higher, resulting annual energy cost savings can pay for additional upfront capital costs quickly.
Older “cool” fluorescents had low quality of light that gives human skin a sickly bluish color. Newer fluorescent lights are both higher light quality and higher efficacy. Daylight, the highest quality of light, can help reduce energy use if the lighting system is properly integrated, with ambient light sensors and dimming mechanisms.
The design and construction of a school’s daylighting systems can cost more money. Properly day lit school (with associated reduced electrical lighting usage) can lead to downsized cooling equipment. The savings from this smaller equipment helps defer the costs of the daylighting features. Hiring an architect or engineering firm that is experienced in good daylighting design, especially in schools, will minimize any additional costs from the design end of a project. As with any building feature, effective daylighting requires good design.
Today’s window technology and proven design practices can ensure that daylighting does not cause distributive glare or temperature swings. Exterior overhangs and interior cloth baffles (hung in skylight wells) eliminate direct sunlight, while letting evenly distributed daylight into rooms. “Daylight” is in effect controlled “sunlight” manipulated to provide useful natural light to classroom activities. Moreover, daylight by nature produces less heat than that given off by artificial lighting.
The application of daylighting without control of sun penetration and/or without photo controls for electric lights can actually increase energy use. Design for daylighting utilizes many techniques to increase light gain while minimizing the heat gain, making it different from passive solar in a number of ways. First of all, the fenestration (or glazing) of the windows is different. In a day lit building, the glazing is designed to let in the full spectrum of visible light, but block out both ultra violet and infrared light. Whereas, in a passive solar building, the fenestration allows for the full spectrum of light to enter the building (including UV and Infra red), but the windows are designed to trap the heat inside the building. In addition, in day lit rooms, it is undesirable to allow sunlight in through the window. Instead, it is important to capture ambient daylight, which is much more diffusing than sunlight, this is often achieved by blocking direct southern exposure, and optimizing shaded light and northern exposure. Passive solar maximizes south facing windows, and minimizes north-facing windows, thus increasing heat gain, and minimizing heat loss.
As population growth increases demand for water increases. A “High Performance School” must reduce water consumption and use limited water resources wisely. This can be achieved by utilizing: water-efficient landscape techniques; water-efficient fixtures and controls in indoor and outdoor plumbing systems. The largest use of water in schools is in cooling and heating systems (evaporative cooling systems, single-pass cooling systems, etc.), kitchens, maintenance operations, landscaping irrigation, locker rooms, and restrooms. Good landscaping design including specifying native plants, proper spacing, and low-flow irrigation (that runs at night) will reduce a school’s water demand and expenditures.
High-efficiency irrigation technologies such as micro-irrigation, moisture sensors, or weather data-based controllers save water by reducing evaporation and operating only when needed. In urban areas, municipally supplied, reclaimed water is an available, less-expensive, and equally effective source for irrigation. The siting of a school and the shape of the land upon which is resides have tremendous impact on water resources. Selecting drought-tolerant plants will naturally lessen the requirement for water. In addition, using mulch around plants will help reduce evaporation, resulting in decreased need for watering plants or trees.
Drip irrigation systems with efficiencies of up to 95% rather conventional spray systems with efficiencies of only 50 to 60%.
The treatment of sewage is a costly process taken on by the local utility at the customer’s expense. The wastewater is typically treated and released back to the environment. Waste materials extracted from the wastewater must be further disposed of according to local codes. Considering on site water treatment will reduce the load on the local utility, offer an opportunity for students to learn about the biological and chemical processes involved in water treatment, and reduce operational expenses by avoiding a utility bill.
Greywater is water that has been used in sinks, drinking fountains, and showers. Black water is water that has been used in toilets. Greywater is fairly simple and safe to clean and reuse, whereas there are more health risks associated with black water.
“High Performance Schools” utilize material efficiency, which includes durable, reused, salvaged, and refurbished or recycled content. Recyclable materials manufactured using environmentally friendly practices.
Material efficiency can often save schools money by reducing the need to buy new materials and by reducing the amount of waste taken to the landfill. “high Performance Schools can reduce the amount of materials needed by: reusing onsite materials; eliminating waste created in the construction and demolition process; choosing materials that are safe, healthy, aesthetically pleasing, environmentally preferable, and contain low embodied energy.
Waste reduction planning is essential for school districts. These wastes represent a significant loss of natural resources and school district funds as well as a potential threat to student/staff health and the environment. To be responsible stewards of environmental quality, school districts should review new school construction, processes and operations, and even curriculum choices and evaluate the economic, educational, and environmental benefits of implementing effective waste reduction measures. Incorporating waste reduction as part of the school district’s overall way of doing business can provide a number of important benefits: reduced disposal costs; improved worker safety; reduced long-term liability; increased efficiency of school operations; and decreased associated purchasing costs.
Building materials may have a number of associated operating costs beyond the straightforward, initial capital costs. Proper selection is essential to minimize these secondary costs. Building materials may pose future health hazards, costing schools absentee time and lost student and faculty productivity. Consider the dangers of volatile organic compounds, dust, and moisture when selecting materials. Keeping these indoor pollutants at a minimum will ensure a healthy indoor environment and improve the learning environment.
Consider also the composition of the materials and how recyclable, durable, and refinishable they are. Keeping each of these characteristics in mind when selecting materials, the building will provide better service and reduce maintenance and operating costs. Source building materials from local distributors and save transportation energy costs if possible.
Transportation costs are sometimes referred to as part of a material’s embodied cost (and energy). Purchase building materials with low embodied costs such as local regional certified wood harvested from sustainable and well-managed forests. Onsite waste reduction and reuse during demolition and construction can save money by reducing amount of money spent at landfill, and by reducing initial amount of money spent on new materials. Save on labor costs by providing a Construction and Demolition waste plans before starting operations and identifying where to recycle materials and what materials to salvage.
The location where a “High Performance School” is constructed impacts the surrounding community. It can affect pedestrian and automobile traffic; quantity and quality of open space in the neighborhood; location within the community; and may be used as a tool to revitalize a community.
Once the school site is determined, the school’s design, construction, and use should be considered. Aspects such as the exterior design, amenities that it may provide and environmental design features can be a source of pride to the community. Schools can be a center for teaching and learning, and also add functional value within the community by providing access to facilities and play fields, and services such as after-school daycare and extended education.
High performance design for schools can be a selling point in bond elections because energy, indoor air quality, and other improvements translate to more comfortable classrooms for students, reduced energy bills, and lower operating and maintenance costs. Schools become healthier learning environments, reduce waste, and have less impact on the environment. Good indoor environmental quality has been proven to increase average daily attendance of students.
Faculty & Student Performance in High Performance Schools
Challenges include: tight budgets; an ever-increasing student enrollment; growing need for the renovation and building of many schools; higher expectation of faculty and student performance among these compelling circumstances. Sustainable schools can have a favorable impact on the school’s budget; help protect our environment; and encourage better performance of faculty and students as a result of a better learning environment.
“High Performance Schools” integrate today’s best technologies with architectural design strategies to achieve a better learning environment. These include: lighting – integration of daylighting and electrical lighting technologies; reduced noise levels by using acoustic materials and low-noise mechanical systems; healthy air quality, temperature, humidity levels – indoor air quality; thermal comfort; HVAC systems; low-emission materials; and reduce distractions and create environments where students and teachers can see and communicate with one another clearly and comfortably.
Without properly commissioning a school, many sustainable design elements can be compromised. In the American Society of Heating Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Guideline, The Commissioning Process is defined as follows: “The Commissioning Process is a quality-oriented process for achieving, verifying, and documenting that the performance of facilities, systems, and assemblies meet defined objectives and criteria. The Commissioning Process begins at project inception (during the pre-design phase) and continues for the life of the facility through the occupancy and operation phase. The commissioning process includes specific tasks to be conducted during each phase in order to verify that design, construction, and training meets the Owner’s Project Requirements.” By implementing a commissioning plan, a school can be sure that all of the systems function at optimum levels.
Facilities Performance Evaluation
Building and its systems are tested one year after completion and occupancy. Surveys are conducted to evaluate the satisfaction of occupants and maintenance and operations personnel. Alert school to system operational performance errors and potential hazards created by poorly operating systems. These problems can be corrected.
Data can be provided to school districts on what building attributes do and don’t work for their schools. Schools can develop guidelines and protocols that can help create better schools in the future.
Key Benefits of a High Performance School
Benefits include higher test scores, increased average daily attendance, increased teacher satisfaction and retention, reduced liability exposure, and sustainable school design.
Financing and incentives
Total construction costs for high performance schools are often the same as costs for conventional schools. Design costs may be slighting higher, but resulting capital and long-term operation costs can be lower. Properly designed day lit school with reduced electrical lighting usage can permit downsized cooling equipment. Even when construction costs are higher, resulting annual operational cost savings can pay for the additional upfront in a short period of time. High performance schools are falsely understood to be high-budget construction projects. Schools can find ways to finance a school beyond the State Allocation Board process. A collection of financial incentives in relation to energy, water, materials, siting, green building, landscaping and transportation from the Federal, State, Local, and Utility sectors may be available.
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Frank Cunha III
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