How to invest school stimulus money and protect energy costs

Now that the most pressing concerns are being addressed, it’s time for administrators to begin thinking long-term about how to use the funds to improve their schools beyond this school year.
By: | January 19, 2022
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Tyler Haak is senior manager, federal programs director, digital buildings at Schneider Electric. (© Mario Salazar Photography)

Tyler Haak is senior manager, federal programs director, digital buildings at Schneider Electric. (© Mario Salazar Photography)

School administrators have spent the first half of this school year working hard to ensure that kids and teachers returned to campus safely. The $129 billion in Covid relief funds for K-12 schools in the American Rescue Plan were first directed toward improving Covid-19 safety measures, like plexiglass barriers and PPE. Schools also used the funds to counter student learning loss, such as the Dallas school district hiring 1,800 tutors for additional support. Now that the most pressing concerns are being addressed, it’s time for administrators to begin thinking long-term about how to use the funds to improve their schools beyond this school year. This infusion of government funding allows for a broad range of uses, including rethinking school infrastructure.

Improving indoor air quality long-term

The main focus in improving school buildings has been improving indoor air quality (IAQ) because it affects the health and comfort of everyone that passes within school buildings. Improving IAQ isn’t just a Covid-19 recovery measure; the right investments can provide protection from future viruses as well. High IAQ also helps people have a better experience at school. Research has shown that energy-efficient schools can improve student performance by providing better learning environments — ones without poor lighting, leaky walls, and inconsistent temperatures impacting students’ ability to concentrate. Infrastructure improvement projects can go beyond quicker fixes on IAQ issues with HEPA filters.

By investing in modern HVAC systems, schools can gain access to advanced building management systems (BMS) that give real-time visibility into air quality and energy use. And further, implementing a digital twin (a virtual representation that spans an object or system’s life cycle) approach for HVAC systems creates accurate, detailed diagnosis and analysis of system issues, especially compared to human observation or rules-based software. This predictive maintenance can help protect students and teachers from airborne pathogens that could occur with advanced filtration equipment failure.

Investing in a BMS to save big on energy costs

Infrastructure improvement projects can also significantly reduce schools’ carbon footprints and help them to save considerably on energy costs. A smart building management system connects and controls a building’s operations, like ventilation, heating, air conditioning, and lighting. By leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT), buildings can connect to a centralized technology backbone that can increase energy efficiency, occupant safety, and building resiliency. This power is harnessed even further when predictive analytics is included with the BMS. Besides identifying maintenance support needs early on so that building managers can respond more proactively with data-driven decisions, a building analytics platform can also illuminate a school’s energy spending and where to prioritize upgrades.

Increased energy efficiency means achieving increased savings, but it can be intimidating to figure out how to invest in these improvements in a cost-effective, timely way. An experienced cooperative purchasing organization for the public sector, like OMNIA Partners, can help to streamline the purchasing process so that schools can more affordably acquire products and solutions from an extensive portfolio of suppliers. This easy access to a significant number of suppliers is crucial because connected schools require various intelligent building technologies to help cut energy waste, maximize operational efficiency, and lower overall costs. Another option is to pursue an Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC) to pay for energy efficiency upgrades using the savings generated by those upgrades over time.

Maintaining these investments long-term

How can schools keep their infrastructure investments pristine over time? By shifting from the traditional approach of solely scheduled or reactive maintenance to a condition-based maintenance strategy that leverages automated, continuous system monitoring. Predictive analytics can help to constantly access critical energy infrastructure and help with repair and replacement forecasting. The maintenance and energy savings that come from these technological upgrades can then be used down the line on initiatives like enhancing student programming. With the right technology, schools can optimize their BMS performance to reduce maintenance costs, increase occupant satisfaction, and create more sustainable and energy-efficient buildings.

Tyler Haak, Program Director, U.S. Digital Buildings Federal, Schneider Electric, directs Schneider Electric’s Program Management for the U.S. Federal building footprint, including agency engagement and stimulus across all building decarbonization opportunities tied to federal funds. Tyler hails from Pittsburgh, PA, has lived in New York City throughout his Schneider Electric career, and now lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Sarah.

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