Schools are not built like the one I attended or even sent my oldest children to. They are changing. We’re becoming smarter. We know that the environments we learn and work in affect how we perform. So, our school facilities are becoming smarter, too. A window is not simply a window anymore.
Here’s a look at just a few of the building elements that are making K-12 school facilities smarter:
1. Daylighting & Occupancy Sensors
Lighting is critical in learning environments and can have a direct impact on reading and math scores – and even absenteeism. Additionally, lighting and electrical usage represent at least 60 percent of the energy a typical school uses. So paying attention to windows and lighting makes good sense.
It’s best to design windows to “daylight” classrooms. This often includes larger windows on the north side to let in more light, and smaller, shaded windows on the south side to let in the light but reduce glare from the direct sunlight.
These windows are coupled with sensors. When the room receives enough daylight to meet required lighting levels, the sensors dim or turn off the electrical lighting. The sensors will also shut off the lights when no movement has been detected in the space for a set period of time. The impact of these strategies is significant.
Studies show the access to daylight increases test scores, and the electrical energy savings pay for these strategies in just a few years.
To those who might argue that larger windows means more heat loss (or gain) and hence higher actual energy costs, we remind them that our most significant energy usage is electrical energy, and that we balance each design so there is a net energy savings when using these strategies.
2. Geo-thermal, High Efficiency Boilers, Displacement Ventilation
A number of heating and cooling options are now available to help schools create healthier and quieter spaces, at a much lower energy cost. The key is the proper application of these strategies and systems to match the district’s and the community’s goals.
A combination of displacement ventilation with either a geothermal system or high-efficiency boiler can provide up to a 25 percent energy savings in heating and cooling.
3. Solar Panels
Rows of angled solar panels are adorning the roofs of more schools. The goal is to create energy that the school then sells back to the utility (or through another partnership) to reduce its energy costs. A number of partnerships exist with utilities and third party firms, so that the cost to schools can be minimal – even non-existent.
Schools can also turn them into learning labs by giving students access to the data on how much energy is being created from the panels at varying times throughout the year to better understand climate and environmental concepts.
4. Movable Walls
These are not the temporary partitions of decades ago. Those were clunky, hard to manage, not very sound proof and subject to breaking down. While those still serve a purpose, newer, movable wall technology helps schools create flexible learning environments of the 21st
A school can install these demountable walls between each classroom to provide a space where individuals go for small-group or one-on-one instruction. When opened, they create a large classroom space for collaborative projects. Coupled with flexibly furniture, and thanks to the creativity of today’s teacher, there are a multitude of possibilities.
While these walls can’t be moved overnight (some can be moved in a weekend), they give administrators and school boards the flexibility to adapt the number of classrooms they have at each grade level to meet the annual enrollment needs of the school and meet the flexibility needs of the teachers.
Smarter Schools, Smarter Students
It’s not enough anymore to build a cost-effective school or addition. The facility needs to be smart in order to give teachers and administrators the flexibility to adapt, be resourceful and deliver even better outcomes for students and their communities.