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Customer Stories

Caney Valley USD 436: Facilitating Learning Through Sustainable Building Upgrades

August 13, 2021

Project Highlights

Location: Kansas

Industry: K-12

Products Used: Air Handling, Controls,

Services Used: Energy Analysis & Monitoring,

Topic: Innovation, Efficiency, Cost-Saving, Optimal Comfort, Lighting, Decarbonization,


When school superintendent Blake A. Vargas stepped into his new role leading Caney Valley Unified School District 436, multiple challenges faced the Kansas school district. Beyond the district’s deferred maintenance issues, including unreliable and inefficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, the district lacked sufficient cash to meet day-to-day operating expenses—much less address necessary building improvements.


Vargas first negotiated the urgent cashflow to fulfill payroll. He then immediately set about identifying a long-term solution to resolve building infrastructure issues.

Aware he needed a holistic solution that addressed far more than simply building systems and services, Vargas vetted his options and ultimately engaged Trane®. He knew that as a holistic energy service company, Trane could help the district develop a master plan that assessed needs, identified the best solutions and uncovered the best funding options.

Facility committee formation and master plan development

To launch the process, the district asked Trane to lead the Facility Committee driving the master planning effort. Committee members included the district’s superintendent, the facilities director, three board of education members, district principals and select community members.

Their master plan detailed key steps, including assessing planned space usage, prioritizing the list of needs and offering funding options to pay for them. The master planning process produced a preliminary analysis, an in-depth energy audit of building systems, and detailed technical and financial audits.

Informed by the building audit findings, Trane and the committee recommended a $3.9 million improvement project that included both equipment solutions and services. The project would improve lighting, building comfort, building security and safety, and optimize indoor air quality.

Proposed building improvements

Planned improvements included upgrading HVAC systems in both buildings and replacing a malfunctioning water source heat pump system in the elementary school. The plan included adding building automation systems (BAS) to both buildings, which enabled centralized energy management for the facilities team. 

High-efficiency LED lighting upgrades to enhance classroom learning environment were also identified for both buildings. Upgrades to the high school and elementary school buildings also included replacement of select doors and repair of windows to improve building safety, energy efficiency and building comfort. High efficiency lighting upgrades also were proposed for the board office, the bus barn and the stadium. A BAS energy management system also was planned for the board office.

Ongoing service agreement

To ensure system performance at optimum levels, the committee also approved ongoing intelligent services support with data analytics for the elementary and high school buildings, including 24/7 support and continuous monitoring to actively detect issues, to quickly resolve problems and to keep critical building systems up and running.


Based on Trane’s recommendation, the Facility Committee chose a bond election as the best funding mechanism for the improvements needed. A successful bond election would allow the district to liberate capital outlay funds to address other classroom improvements without risking unplanned deferred maintenance emergencies. The district also decided to utilize an energy performance contract which would provide energy, operational and maintenance savings.

Trane worked with the committee and the district’s finance partner to develop a plan of finance and bond election campaign to win community support for the first bond election in 25 years. 

Full-court press campaign

The bond campaign, which the Facility Committee dubbed, “Bond4Pullpups” focused on clearly demonstrating the need and showcasing the benefits of the upgrades. The campaign team targeted a clear, simple message. They involved teachers and staff, gaining their support first so they could serve as informed ambassadors within the community.

The committee drove the message using multiple communication efforts, including community meetings, social media and news coverage. They also visited local coffee shops, businesses, churches, nursing homes and even individual residences.

Community meetings

A series of community meetings hosted by the school district, Trane and the finance partner also helped drive support for the bond. During the meetings, the facility committee, Trane and the finance partner shared the proposed updates and detailed the benefits.

School leaders also plan to use the building improvements as an educational opportunity by engaging Trane’s BTU CrewTM energy and data analytics curriculum. This project-based and work- based learning approach provides an interactive educational experience for students who learn about energy-efficiency concepts using their own school buildings as living-learning labs.

“Anytime that you can bring real world and relevant information and see its direct impact in
the classroom, learning is intensified in a way that truly inspires growth,” said Blake A. Vargas, superintendent of Caney Valley USD 436. “The real-world data present from the Trane analytics provided a unique opportunity for students to not just read about, but be active participants in their learning and understanding of how energy systems impact schools.”


Thanks to a hard-hitting, broad-reaching and compelling campaign, 75 percent of the Caney Valley community voted to pass the bond. Upgrades were funded and completed. These improvements generated 20 percent energy savings for the district while optimizing the academic environment for better student performance and greater building comfort and safety for students, teachers and staff.