Whitepaper: 06.15.2015

Managing Renovation Budgets

Phased Construction Helps Stretch School Renovation Funds
by Justin Dent, McCarthy Project Director

Many school officials continue to face facility-related dilemmas today. Older campuses are experiencing high operating costs due to inefficient equipment and outdated technologies. The ideal solution is to renovate the facility and bring the school up-to-date with the latest technologies and high-performance features. Unfortunately, the budget for upgrades continues to be a challenge for many schools.

Even in difficult budget times, several school districts in Arizona have managed to prioritize desperately needed upgrades utilizing a phased approach to construction, allowing for minimal inconvenience to parents, staff and the learning process by keeping students at their campus instead of finding alternate locations. It provides major cost savings for school districts and enables work to be completed over the summer, during breaks, or even at specific times of the day in order to ensure no disruptions to classrooms.

When Renovations Turn Old to New
Glendale Union High School District (GUHSD) in metro Phoenix recently completed several phases of renovation work on the Greenway and Thunderbird high school campuses, saving millions of dollars by phasing construction renovations.

McCarthy demolished old buildings prior to starting construction on new, two-story classroom buildings built using concrete tilt-wall construction, enabling the projects to be fast-tracked for completion. Crews worked two, eight-hour shifts all summer long in order to complete these buildings prior to the start of school in August.

Neil Rogers, administrator of facilities for GUHSD, said, “McCarthy is changing the way schools are built. Their ability to self-perform and complete projects in half the time utilizing two shifts without sacrificing safety, quality or budget gives our district a tremendous amount of flexibility that allows us to concentrate on the students, staff and the community.”

HVAC Upgrades Translate to Big Cost Savings
One of the most obvious updates a school should consider, especially in the desert Southwest, is updating HVAC units to 13 seasonal energy efficiency rating (SEER) or higher. In 2006 the Department of Energy raised the standard for air conditioners and heat pumps to a minimum of 13 SEER for all manufacturers. HVAC units with a 13 SEER are 30 percent more efficient than the old standard of 10 SEER.

The purpose of the HVAC system is to filter air, heat and cool as required and control humidity in the building. Many such systems introduce outside air into the process to dilute building contaminants, such as high carbon dioxide levels (CO2), which occupants contribute to a space such as a classroom. Schools with older HVAC units face challenges with their energy bills, especially during the hot summer months, because of the requirement to maintain minimum outdoor air ventilation rates consistent with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) standard 62.1, which for classrooms is approximately 15 cubic feet per minute (cfm) of outdoor air per person.

The Chandler Unified School District took a proactive, phased approach to its HVAC upgrades, grouping schools according to need over a three-year period. The district also installed CO2 sensors that trigger the HVAC unit to infuse fresh air into the classrooms when CO2 levels are too high. The sensors also allow the unit to perform at peak operating efficiency since fresh air is only pumped into the rooms when it is needed.

“We decided to move forward with HVAC upgrades for several reasons – the equipment was getting old, the units were running inefficiently, and we wanted to control rising utility costs,” said Frank Fletcher, associate superintendent for support services with the Chandler Unified School District. “We have noticed that our kilowatt hour consumption has been reduced by 20 to 25 percent and, in addition, we are better able to centrally control the systems at each of the sites.”

Modernization Project Uses Energy-Saving Upgrades for Long-Term Savings
In order to avoid non-construction-related costs to the more than 300,000-square-foot renovation project at Barry Goldwater High School, part of the Deer Valley Unified School District (DVUSD) in metro Phoenix, a phased construction approach was utilized. The district opted to run three shifts per day during the summer weeks to cause the least disruption to the campus. Although there was an additional cost to run the three shifts per day, a savings was realized in non-construction-related costs and in general conditions due to a shorter construction window. 

This approach also allowed the district to incorporate more energy-saving alternatives into the scope of the project. For example, the district opted to replace the chilled water system and other supporting systems during a time when the campus had limited occupancy.

“Our energy efficiencies have paid big dividends, saving our district more than $145,000 annually compared to one of our other similar, non-upgraded campuses and earning Barry Goldwater High School an Energy Rating of 97,” said Jim Migliorino, associate superintendent of fiscal and business services for DVUSD.

Because schools are facing unprecedented budget cuts, it’s critical that school improvement projects prioritize upgrades, minimize student disruption, and result in long-term cost savings. A phased approach to construction renovation work – when planned thoughtfully and safely with a skilled construction team that delivers results – often is the best approach.

About the Author
Justin Dent is a project director for the Education Services team for McCarthy in Phoenix.

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