Educational facilities focus on technological advancements and efficiency:

School construction and renovation is on the rise across the United States; it’s a process needed to accommodate a growing student population and provide the up-to-date educational facilities to prepare students for life and work in the 21st century. Even though educational facilities have specific requirements, the public and private entities that own, operate and maintain them face many of the same challenges as their counterparts that deal with other types of commercial and institutional facilities. These challenges include providing a safe, healthy and state-of-the-art learning environment for students while dealing with shrinking budgets, rising energy and material costs, and a shortage of teachers. As a result, the current trend toward integrated building systems is beginning to find its way into educational facility construction and renovation, which is improving the efficiency and effectiveness of both building operation and the educational process.

The building systems in an educational facility are generally similar to those that make up any commercial or industrial building. From an operational standpoint, these systems can be categorized as environmental, life safety and security, and production systems. The environmental systems include the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems that establish the physical environment in which building occupants live, work and play. Life safety and security systems include those that are in place to protect building occupants from physical harm. The environmental and life safety and security systems in educational facilities are very similar to those found in other commercial and institutional facilities.

Production systems, on the other hand, support the human activity that is carried out within the building and are unique for educational facilities. For an educational facility, production systems include all the technology necessary for modern education. Just like an office building or a factory, educational facilities can benefit greatly from the integration and interoperability of all these diverse systems.

Building a learning environment

The physical environment within a school must promote learning by providing a comfortable and healthy environment for students and teachers. Bad lighting and poor indoor air quality (IAQ), thermal control and acoustics all adversely impact students’ abilities to learn. The school’s environmental systems that include artificial and daylighting; heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC); and acoustics all have a significant impact on students and their learning productivity. In addition, the lighting and HVAC systems are responsible for almost all of the energy used by an educational facility.

Lighting quality is very important in schools and it is not just about light quantity. Most of what students do is visual, and poor lighting quality can affect their ability to learn effectively. Lighting and lighting control systems that are installed in schools today need to support modern instructional media such as whiteboards, video projectors, computer displays and other visual technologies. Wherever possible, daylighting should be integrated into the school. It has a positive affect on student moods and attitudes and reduces energy use when coupled with an effective control system.

Similarly, thermal comfort in the form of an effective HVAC system is important to ensure occupants’ well-being and indoor air quality. In order to optimize the learning environment, the HVAC system must be capable of not only controlling the temperature and humidity of classrooms but also air quality. This means that HVAC systems must have sensors that not only monitor temperature but also carbon dioxide to bring additional fresh air into the space when needed.

As in other commercial and institutional buildings, the environmental systems in educational facilities have been designed, installed and operated as independent, stand-alone systems. System integration can optimize the overall operation of the building and provide a healthier and more productive environment for students as well as increase the efficiency of building operations.

Division 25 of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) MasterFormat is entitled “Integrated Automation” and covers building system integration. Environmental system integration can be accomplished with either a traditional proprietary building automation system (BAS) or by the electrical contracting firm using an open-architecture control system such as LonWorks.

School security

Security in educational facilities from preschools to universities is a major concern. Safety is a basic need and schools must provide a secure environment where students feel safe. Technology plays a large role in making schools secure.

Access control in some schools is nearly equal to that found at airport gates and includes personal identification, metal detectors and the X-ray of book bags as the student enters the facility. In addition, access to restricted areas that are open only to teachers, staff and administrators is often controlled with card readers and keypads. Student movement and activity is monitored in buildings using security closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems. Students get access to restricted areas such as laboratories and dormitories using card keys and keypads. Emergency call stations are located throughout buildings and around school property in case of an emergency.

Student photo identification cards with magnetic strips and bar codes are used to quickly identify students for access to buildings as well as to school functions and sporting events. These ID cards are also being used to check out library books, purchase lunch on campus like a credit card or gain access to an examination. In the future, student ID cards with built-in passive radio frequency identification (RFID) chips or biometrics will be used to speed-up identification and improve reliability.

Educational technology

Today’s schools are high-tech facilities that incorporate the latest in communications and information technology. Information technology not only enhances education, but it also prepares students for the world that they will live and work in tomorrow. Modern schools use a variety of technologies to enhance the students’ learning experience. Liquid crystal display projectors coupled with computers, document cameras and DVD players are rapidly replacing overhead projectors and VCRs in classrooms. Smart boards replace blackboards and white boards and not only record everything written on them but also can serve as a touchscreen for interactive computer use.

Wired and wireless local area networks (LAN) are common in schools today. Wi-Fi allows students to bring their own laptops and tie into the school’s network. Wireless networks in schools also provide greater flexibility as to where and how desktop computers are used in the classroom. These networks were originally installed to allow students and teachers access to software and other network resources residing on the school or school district’s server as well as the Internet. However, schools are finding additional uses for their internal networks such as voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), telephony and streaming video. Some schools have found that VoIP is an economical way of putting a telephone in each teacher’s room with their own voice mail and extension that facilitates interaction with parents. In addition, CCTV systems are being used for internal school communications, and cable/satellite television systems are being used to introduce students to world news and events.

The little red school house turns green

The green building movement is an important trend that is driving system integration in educational facilities. Public and private educational facility owners are requiring that new schools be environmentally sustainable and energy efficient. Many educational facilities are being certified using the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system. Meeting the LEED requirements forces building environmental systems to be integrated in order to provide a healthy, comfortable and resource-efficient environment for students.

Green educational facilities serve an educational purpose for both students and the general public as well as to conserve resources throughout the building’s life. Sustainable and energy-efficient school buildings introduce the next generation to environmental issues and their importance, which is a valuable lesson. In addition, a green educational facility shows the public that sustainable construction is more than a demonstration of social responsibility but good business because increased operating efficiency and reduced maintenance over the life of a building pays off.

The growing school construction market coupled with the increasing use of information technology in the classroom and the trend toward integrated systems to improve facility efficiency provide good reasons for the full-service electrical contracting firm to “go back to school.” If your firm has design/build capability, you should be aware that an increasing number of both private and public school projects are using design/build as their delivery system. Even with competitive bid school construction projects, there are owners experimenting with awarding work based on best value rather than selecting solely on low price. In addition to new construction work, there are still many older educational facilities that need their power, communications and control systems upgraded, which can provide a lot of opportunity for service work or small project work for the electrical contracting firm.                EC

This article is the result of a research project that is sponsored by ELECTRI International and investigating future markets for electrical contracting firms.

Glavinich is an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at The University of Kansas. He can be reached at 785.864.3435 or tglavinich@ku.edu.