Refurbished CH-UH school buildings will save energy and money

The current buildings in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District consume between 150–218 thousand BTUs per square foot each year. The 1970s buildings use around 150 thousand BTUs per square foot per year, while the 1950s buildings use 200 thousand-plus BTUs per square foot per year [See the report published by the Lay Facilities Committee's Sustainability Working Group (LFC/SWG), pages 17–20].

The Board of Education-accepted facilities plan includes a performance goal of mid-30s thousand BTUs per square foot per year. This is consistent with construction practices specified by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) documents for current K–12 buildings. [See the Advanced Energy Design Guide for K–12 School Buildings: Achieving 50 Percent Energy Savings Toward a Net Zero Energy Building, published by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Special Project 134, 2011. (LFC/SWG has copies.)]

Achieving this goal requires substantial building envelope rework along with HVAC systems replacement. The cost is greater than can be accomplished by using the district's Capital Improvement Fund.

It is worth noting that the best K–12 buildings use 15–20 thousand BTUs per square foot per year [See the report]. Such buildings are intended to be net-zero energy consumers. The CH-UH facilities plan does not push that far. One could ask what would be the cost/benefit analysis of going that far, but it has not been done at this point. Only citizen advocacy will drive such a study, as the resources and expertise available to the Lay Facilities Committee could not afford it.

The planned energy savings is greater than or equal to a five-times reduction. The near-term cost savings depends on the mix of electricity and natural gas consumed over the next 5–10 years. Electricity historically has cost three times more than natural gas because of the inefficiency of converting a fossil fuel to electricity. As electricity becomes produced by other [methods] than [converting] fossil fuels over the next 50–100 year lifetimes of the refurbished buildings, the cost of electricity will likely become cheaper than natural gas. (The current natural gas boom from fracking is projected by some to be a 10–25 year phenomena. [See the report.]) Therefore, the expected cost savings depends on the heating system chosen; for example, gas furnaces or electricity-driven geothermal heating, and the energy markets of the future. Energy Savings Performance Contractors make a profit from installing and cost sharing the savings. Those consulted during this last year for the facilities plan guessed it might be on the order of 70 percent of the  approximately $2.2 million being spent currently.

This author thinks that fiscal responsibility and environmental stewardship dictate that a facilities overhaul by the district, with substantial energy savings, is prudent.

Allen Wilkinson

Allen Wilkinson was a member of the Sustainability Working Group (SWG) of the Lay Facilities Committee (LFC) and is running for the Board of Education.

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Volume 6, Issue 9, Posted 10:53 AM, 08.13.2013