Infrastructure and lighting improvements save nearly $700,000 in annual energy costs at Willoughby-Eastlake School District

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that high performance schools ─ facilities that improve the learning environment while saving energy, resources and money ─ support the mission of K-12 education, creating school conditions that improve student achievement and comfort and teacher productivity. These schools take an integrated "whole building" approach to optimizing key building systems and technologies.

Aging infrastructure needs improvement

Leaders at Willoughby-Eastlake School District in Willoughby, Ohio, an eastern suburb of Cleveland, recently took a high performance building approach to district-wide upgrades that generated impressive results.

Administrators faced aging infrastructure, high energy costs and outdated, inefficient lighting in 12 buildings constructed from 1921 through 1974. The district serves nearly 9,000 students from the cities of Eastlake, Lakeline, Timberlake, Waite Hill, Willoughby, Willoughby Hills and Willowick.

The primary focus of the administration was to renovate an existing facility, the Kennedy building, vacant for 24 years, in order to serve special needs students and offer early childhood and community college programs. Previously, special needs students were bused to locations outside the district at a higher cost than the students could be served within the district.

Buildings needing retrofits in the district included a high school, a Tech Center, three middle schools and six elementary schools as well as the Kennedy building. The district first worked with the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission to evaluate the situation and received a recommendation that every single building be torn down and rebuilt at a cost of $300 million.

District opts for retrofit solution

Since that solution wasn’t financially feasible, Willoughby-Eastlake leaders worked with Gardiner Trane, Leff Electric and GE Lighting to accomplish its mission of improving the learning and teaching environment throughout the district. District administrators undertook a high performance building approach to achieve their goals.

Prior to selecting energy conservation measures, Gardiner Trane worked with the Willoughby-Eastlake School District to conduct an investment-grade audit. Based on the results of the audit, district leaders implemented a complete renovation of the 75,000 square-foot Kennedy building, completing heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) upgrades ─ including replacing all electric boilers; and installing lighting upgrades ─ including replacing all lights, throughout the 12 facilities.

Lighting improvements generate significant results

The district replaced old, inefficient lighting fixtures with state-of-the-art GE 28-watt lamps that provide just the right amount of illumination to enable students to read without glare. The new lighting provides brighter illumination to help improve student learning.

Classrooms now feature long-life bulbs, which also reduces maintenance costs. Use of the extended-life bulbs reduces the need to interrupt class or change bulbs after hours, all while considerably lowering energy costs.

“Lighting improved so significantly throughout the district that we actually learned that one of our gymnasiums had a pine floor and white walls, both of which previously appeared yellow due to the amber hue that the previous poor lighting shed on everything in that gym,” said Steve Thompson, superintendent for Willoughby-Eastlake district. “Lighting throughout the district now promotes learning rather than hindering it. Lighting creates an environment that is crisply clear, yet warm and inviting – ideal for learning.”

Comfort improves district-wide

Improvements also included updating infrastructure systems to ensure a consistently comfortable environment throughout district buildings. HVAC retrofits included implementing new boilers in two buildings and rooftop air conditioning in two facilities. 

“Inconsistent heating and cooling used to mean that students would attend one class in a 

t-shirt and wear a jacket to the next class because it was so cold,” said Thompson. “Students and teachers now remain consistently comfortable and morale has markedly improving as a result.”

The district also implemented an updated control system to enable more efficient and effective control of comfort space, including lighting, of all facilities across the district. HVAC and lighting generate the greatest portion of energy costs in a building and the district integrated control of both lighting and HVAC to maximize energy and operational efficiency.

District leaders installed an Intelligent Control System that enables users to remotely monitor and track energy performance and also to adjust and correct any comfort space issues. The district facilities team can view building performance remotely and work with Gardiner Trane to address any changes.

Updated building brings services in-district

The district also repurposed the previously vacant Kennedy building to serve special needs students within the district, eliminating the need to bus students to other schools and saving money and time. The building, now called Kennedy Academy, also houses the district’s early childhood program and offers post-secondary nursing education programs.

Upgrades to the Kennedy building included installing new doors, windows, roofing and installation and upgrading infiltration. The new windows and doors give the building a fresh new look while retaining the historic architecture of the old building. Included in the renovation were two gymnasium floors, new classrooms including required sensory rooms for  special needs students, a new electrical vault and distribution, all new flooring, facility interior painting and four restrooms.  Improving the building envelope overcame issues with cold winter drafts and stifling rooms in summer faced by building occupants.

Improvements positively affect the bottom line

The district was able to utilize Ohio State House Bill 264 to secure low-interest funds for the energy conservation measures throughout their facility buildings and for the Kennedy building. The house bill enables school districts to fund energy projects to improve the educational environment by using the savings of those funds to drive the project.

In this case, the project was funded primarily by the energy savings achieved from the lighting retrofits. The renovation saved the district nearly 4,375,535 kWh, providing nearly $663,000 in energy savings while significantly improving morale for students, teachers and staff and generating new jobs for the district. The estimated energy savings combined with the benefits of bringing the autism and special needs resources to the district is saving nearly $1.26 million each year.

Opening Kennedy Academy increased employment with new principals, administration, staff and teachers, adding a total of five new full-time employees. The upgrades also reduced district energy costs from 32 cents a kilowatt hour for power to 9 cents a kilowatt hour for power.

Leaders believe the improvements are positively affecting student performance. “I would say first and foremost that the greatest impact has been in the attitude of students and staff,” said Thompson. “I don’t think there’s any question that it has impacted the way that kids view school and the way that teachers view doing their jobs and I think that leads to student achievement for sure.”

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