CGCS Rewind: Creating COVID-19 Resilient School Buildings with Energy Management

Dr. Randy Hoff, PE, Vice Chairman and Jack Bullock, PE, EVP of Cenergistic presented at the annual Council of the Great City Schools Chief Operating Officer & Director of Support Services Virtual Summit alongside Michael Ball, Chief Financial Officer of Fort Worth ISD.

We talked to Randy Hoff to learn more about the presentation and his experience at the event —

Q1: What were some of your favorite tips about maintaining building health that you were able to share with the audience?

In the COVID-19 era, school districts are rightly focused on ensuring the safety of their students, teachers and staff while conducting in-person learning. We call this ensuring healthy buildings at Cenergistic.

But, in the pursuit of healthy buildings, we’ve found that many districts around the country are pouring money into new ventilation equipment and air filtration technology without first taking the foundational steps necessary. Without laying the groundwork, these investments won’t pay off.

Before making these investments, and as in-person learning ramps up for the summer and fall semesters, districts should start with an inspection of existing air-handling systems to verify whether each is providing its designated ventilation capabilities and identify any necessary repairs. From there, districts should upgrade existing filters to MERV 13, assess for dynamic ventilation possibilities and look for ways to implement natural ventilation. Once these foundational steps are taken, it’s likely that districts will have solved for many of their COVID-19 healthy buildings’ needs. And, as an added incentive, a program targeting indoor air quality should allow districts to leverage ESSER II or other federal funding.

Should further requirements still exist, districts can invest in new technology — saving money and ensuring the health and safety of students, teachers and staff in the process.

Q2: What was one topic related to building health and energy savings that the audience was particularly interested in and wanted to know more about? Did they have any pressing concerns?

It’s no secret that, due to remote learning, most school districts saw a drop in energy spend this year. By some calculations, certain districts saved between 10% and 20% on their usual energy spend. That’s great news!

But, here’s the hard truth: that spend is going to go right back up to pre-COVID levels as soon as districts resume full in-person learning. COVID-related reductions in energy usage were just a one-time thing.

On the other hand, schools that have worked over the past few years to implement energy management programs saved between 40% and 60% of their pre-COVID energy spend during the pandemic, according to our own clients. Not only were these savings greater than other districts, but they also won’t disappear when in-person learning resumes. Attendees were therefore naturally curious about how they could implement early energy management best practices and what longer-term behavior changes they need to adopt in order to generate similar results.

Q3: What was your most interesting takeaway from the event this year?

Healthy buildings and energy savings are not mutually exclusive — in fact, a properly operated building will be healthier and more efficient. You can (and should) enjoy both.

Put simply, when students, teachers and staff aren’t present and are primarily leveraging remote learning, it is an ideal time to save on your energy usage. When facilities are in use, we can continue to save and appropriately ventilate. While the subsequent health benefits may be unquantifiable, the dollars saved can be re-invested into other initiatives: from building upgrades to after-school programming and teacher compensation.

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To learn how Cenergistic reduces your energy use and ensures your buildings are prepared to safely host occupants, contact us for more information at 1-855-798-7779 or visit Cenergistic.com.

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