Energy Solutions Enhance Learning Environment

A suburban-Chicago-based school district used equipment from Trane to update and replace HVAC systems to provide students safe, efficient, and quiet classrooms. A suburban-Chicago-based school district used equipment from Trane to update and replace HVAC systems to provide students safe, efficient, and quiet classrooms.

Classroom conditions in Cook County School District 104, a near-west suburban district just outside of Chicago with about 1,800 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, were impacting student performance and teacher morale. Providing appropriate indoor air quality and a comfortable environment conducive to learning is a critical part of the school district’s mission; however like so many school districts, financial constraints made large infrastructure investments a challenge.

With five schools in the district—and mechanical systems dating back to the 1960s—the district began a process of renovating its facilities to improve performance and efficiency. An economic downturn interrupted progress on the districts’ facility improvements leaving only three of the five schools renovated and causing a lack of parity within the district.

The two remaining buildings had heating-only mechanical systems. Without air conditioning there were days at the beginning and end of the school year when classroom temperatures rose above 90 F. This caused class cancellations on numerous occasions and in some instances students with asthma or other health conditions had to be moved to other schools.

“Our students are not as productive, engaged, or ready to learn when they are horribly hot,” said Amanda Deaton, principal at the district’s WW Walker Elementary School. “We expect them to perform well on high stakes testing for the state, and we’re not providing a comfortable learning environment to enable them to do that.”

Trane unit ventilators with electronically commutated motor (ECM) technology were installed at two schools. Trane unit ventilators with electronically commutated motor (ECM) technology were installed at two schools.

The district wanted to provide a comfortable learning environment for its students and teachers in an energy-efficient manner. Having worked with Trane, Piscataway, NJ, in the past, the district superintendent contacted Trane team members to discuss the necessary facility renovations. The goal was to ensure that classrooms were safe, efficient, and quiet.

Using Trane Building Advantage energy solutions, a series of feasibility surveys and an energy-usage analysis were conducted. Using that information, Trane representatives presented the district with a comprehensive plan that provided the solutions needed to improve the learning environment while also minimizing energy consumption to conform to the district’s tight budget.

The plan included a complete redesign of mechanical systems at the two schools, new unit ventilators with air conditioning, asbestos abatement, design and installation of a building automation system, connection to the Trane energy center, and even replacement of classroom cabinets and lighting. Workshops were held with the district facilities committee, school board members, and members of the community to explain the proposed upgrades and the benefits the plan offered the district.

During one meeting, the company retrofitted a classroom with a working unit ventilator to demonstrate its quiet operation. After turning off the much louder old unit, there was a significant drop in the decibel level. Many of the people in attendance assumed that both ventilators had been turned off, when in fact the new Trane unit ventilator was still operating.

“It was a great example to show how changing the equipment can provide a much quieter environment and a very impressive demonstration for my school board,” said district superintendent Troy Whalen.

Following the plan, the boiler, pumps, and piping configuration were replaced at one school location. Trane unit ventilators with electronically commutated motor (ECM) technology were installed at two other schools in the district. ECMs, which are standard on Trane unit ventilators, help optimize performance to provide energy savings to 66% compared to conventional motors.

A web-based Trane Tracer SC building-automation system (BAS) was also installed, providing the school district with convenient access to its building system and allowing adjustment of classroom temperatures as well as performance of daily tasks such as scheduling, troubleshooting, alarm management, and data analysis.

Trane Air-Fi wireless technology was used to eliminate the need for communication wires between the BAS and unit controllers. This reduced the time, disruption, and cost of installation, and provided easier troubleshooting and maintenance for the district over the life of the system. Easier, faster installation was important because the district needed to complete the project improvements during the summer break.

The improvements resulted in numerous benefits for the district—benefits that positively impact the learning environment, staff morale, and the district’s bottom line. The solutions also helped increase parity among the district’s schools.

It is now much easier for teachers to control the temperature in their classrooms. The web-based BAS allows building staff to view the entire building and easily adjust temperature setpoints in specific classrooms throughout the day. This allows better classroom conditions that are more favorable to learning and helps improve continuity of the district schedule—especially in the first and last weeks of the school year when hot temperatures previously forced the occasional cancellation of classes.

“When I walk into a classroom, the first thing I look for is how engaged the students are,” Deaton said. “I would definitely say that I have seen a huge difference in student engagement.”

The building-equipment improvements and energy-management solutions have improved efficiency for the district, and the electricity costs are nearly $70,000 below school district expectations.

“Surprisingly, our electric usage, which I thought would go through the roof because of the additional air conditioning units, was almost a third less than expected,” Whalen said.

The success of the project provides the district with more opportunities to make improvements in the future. Plans for a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) lab in one of the schools will use the information the district receives from the system interface.

“The students are able to interact with that data that we get on a daily basis from Trane,” Whalen said. “It has given us even more opportunities to move ahead of where we had been in the past.”

datacache— Download information on the Trane Tracer SC building-automation system.

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