School project teams tackle shifting sustainability goals
Project teams working on K-12 school construction may soon be dealing with some different processes as part of ongoing efforts to improve energy efficiency and sustainability while also containing owner costs.
Any construction project which is funded by the state, must comply with the Maryland High Performance Building Program. It requires those projects to meet the standards set by either LEED, Green Globes or IgCC (International Green Construction Code) for energy efficiency and sustainable construction.
Nearly all K-12 projects to date have followed the LEED model. However, Green Globes, a comparable but less well-known point-based rating system, is beginning to gain some attention among school systems.
“Montgomery County Public Schools are testing the waters with Green Globes. They are pursuing Green Globe certification on their projects moving forward, which is really breaking new ground for most team members on these projects,” said Sean Soboloski, a sustainability and energy modeling expert at James Posey Associates.
A main reason for the switch involved challenges in applying LEED Version 3 to school addition projects.
“When you have owners who are managing large portfolios of projects, they are looking for a rating system that they can apply across all of their project types,” Soboloski said.
Pursuing Green Globes certifications will place project teams on a significant learning curve, but it will also grant them greater flexibility, he said. The Green Globe system allows project teams to designate some items as not applicable to their project and offers greater freedom to “pick and choose what strategies you want to implement in your project to achieve your sustainability goals.”
While energy modeling is already required for some aspects of LEED and Green Globe certification, ongoing changes in energy codes, green building standards and owner preferences seem to be driving up demands for energy modeling and monitoring.
“School systems are paying more attention to energy consumption and tracking the data better so they can understand how their school buildings are performing. Large school systems, in particular, have the benefit of building a lot so they can see how different schools perform and test out different options to see what works best,” said Lauren Park, sustainability specialist at GWWO Inc./Architects.
Energy modeling before construction can enable project teams to evaluate the performance and interaction of different options for roofs, glazing and exterior sheathing. Such modeling can result in a project that is both more efficient and more affordable than following prescriptive construction requirements, Soboloski said.
“If the building envelope is significantly improved, oftentimes you can downsize your HVAC equipment,” he said.
Some school projects, such as Wilde Lake Middle School, conducted even more detailed model. James Posey engineers working on that project investigated the energy use and HVAC needs/impacts of every piece of school equipment, including kitchen appliances and server racks. That modeling also helped determine how many solar panels the school would need to reach net-zero status.
Changing codes and goals
Assorted other factors could impact K-12 projects in the near future. The State of Maryland completed an update of the High Performance Building Program at the end of 2019, LEED Version 4 is changing some requirements for certification and some local jurisdictions are adopting their own green building standards. The City of Gaithersburg, for example, has adopted the 2018 version of IgCC which requires some buildings to become solar-ready. “This process is not getting any easier and you have to keep learning to stay up to speed with the requirements,” Soboloski said.