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Optimizing Learning Environment:

Powhatan County Schools Achieve 20% Energy Savings with Trane's Upgrades

July 27, 2022

Project Highlights

Location: Virginia

Industry: K-12

Products Used: Controls,

Services Used: Energy Management & Controls,

Topic: Lighting, IEQ, Decarbonization, Efficiency, Services, Energy Services,

Trane Completes District Upgrades Lowering Energy Costs 20 Percent and Optimizing Learning Environment


When leaders at Powhatan County were adding a new school building, they wanted to address a host of deferred maintenance issues that plagued four existing dark and gloomy school buildings before the new school building opened its doors. Powhatan County Public Schools leaders wanted to upgrade these existing buildings to create an equitable, optimized learning environment for all district students. Since the district lacked additional funding, Trane helped them fund the upgrades with future energy savings using a performance contract. The upgrades helped to improve the teaching and learning environment, enhancing comfort and indoor air quality while decreasing energy use and operational costs. Upgrades reduced energy costs by more than 20 percent and cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 3.3 million pounds of CO2.

Powhatan County Public Schools Customer Story


When leaders at Powhatan County Public Schools undertook plans to build a new middle school, they also wanted to address deferred maintenance in their existing buildings. The district, located in Powhatan, Virginia, 20 miles west of Richmond, houses approximately 4,500 students in five buildings. Leaders planned to demolish the junior high school and build a new middle school to house students in grades 6-8 who previously were separated into two buildings.

IAQ, Comfort and Lighting - and Cost Issues - The existing buildings faced multiple challenges. Outdated lighting made them feel dreary while poor indoor air quality and inconsistent heating and cooling made the rooms uncomfortable. Leaders also wanted to upgrade inefficient equipment, combat increasing maintenance costs, reduce rising utility spend and lower the district’s environmental impact.

“It was just a dark, gloomy environment and we really wanted to modernize it to match what we wanted to see instructionally going on in our classrooms,” said Eric Jones, school superintendent during the upgrades.

Beyond the need for upgrades, school leaders didn’t want teachers, staff and students in existing buildings to feel left behind when the doors of the new building opened. So timing was important since the existing building upgrades needed to be completed before the new school building opened its doors. Unfortunately, the district lacked funding to upgrade the existing buildings. They needed a creative solution.


Based on a pre-existing relationship with Trane, the district engaged the energy service provider to help them meet the challenge. Trane proposed an energy performance contract to fund the improvements. This approach would allow the district to leverage energy savings to pay for upgrades instead of using capital dollars, reducing their risk while helping them effectively manage taxpayer dollars.

Cooperative Purchasing Leverages Pricing and Delivery: Trane also helped the district streamline purchases and speed up construction, leveraging better pricing and expedited delivery, through Omnia Partners®. Used by many schools in Virginia, Omnia Partners is one of the largest cooperative-purchasing organizations for public sector procurement in the country.

Auditing and Modeling Pave the Way – Trane proceeded with a technical audit of all district buildings to create a business case for the upgrades. Next, they used energy modeling to evaluate potential solutions. They then compiled a list of proposed energy conservation measures and associated paybacks, recommending that the district focus on five areas providing the best value:

  • lighting and water upgrades
  • building envelope improvements
  • energy management
  • equipment recommissioning
  • service

Better illumination for better learning - The project team started with a lighting upgrade, replacing more than 10,500 internal and external incandescent lighting fixtures with LED fixtures expected to last twice as long. They also installed occupancy controls in select areas, reducing electricity use. The new LEDs lowered operational costs and the district’s carbon footprint while better illuminating the academic environment.

Optimizing building operations - Trane refurbished building HVAC systems to ensure proper equipment operation, decreasing operational and energy costs. They identified additional maintenance requirements which were completed to help keep systems running smoothly. To help reduce water and sewer costs, the team installed low-flow fixtures and valves. Trane also evaluated window and door insulation and implemented building envelopment improvements to reduce drafts and air leakage.

Improved energy management - The team recommissioned the district’s existing energy management system (EMS) to ensure proper operation and control. Upgrading pneumatic equipment controls and stand-alone thermostats to digital technologies and integrating them into the EMS enabled the district to implement energy-saving strategies such as demand control ventilation.

Streamlining scheduling and building operations - Trane also introduced Powhatan County Public Schools to software that gives administrators insights into their buildings’ performance and energy use, streamlining workflow, managing maintenance, and reducing energy spend. The software allows easy scheduling of rooms for classes and other events and provides teachers with greater flexibility in controlling comfort by making simple temperature adjustments using their laptops.

Addressing specific needs of individual schools
Pocahontas Elementary School
- With district-wide improvements in process, Trane evaluated school-specific needs. To lower energy use at the Pocahontas Elementary School, Trane installed a new high-efficiency air-cooled chiller and upgraded chilled and heating water pumps with Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs). These converted the systems from constant to variable primary flow to optimize system efficiency. In addition, the team recommissioned outside air units which helped to optimize operations, reducing redundancies, and humidity and temperature control issues. A new variable-air-volume (VAV) air-handling unit was added, saving energy and improving air quality in the library.

Powhatan Elementary - Trane identified the opportunity to install a geothermal well field at Powhatan Elementary to reduce the load and energy consumption. The school’s 31-year-old boiler was replaced, helping to reduce service costs, and its cooling towers were downsized. Variable speed compressors and fans replaced existing water source heat pumps, allowing efficient operation and improved temperature and humidity control. Installation of two-way valves on the condenser water system reduced variable speed pumping costs.

Flat Rock Elementary - With Flat Rock Elementary spending more on heating than older district buildings, Trane focused on heating plant upgrades and controls recommissioning. The team installed two-way valves on equipment and VFDs on the heating water pumps to enable pumping system energy savings, checked scheduling and control of hot water recirculation pumps on air handling units, and implemented supply air temperature and pressure reset on VAV systems.



The upgrades enhanced the academic environment, improving indoor air quality and comfort while reducing energy costs by 20 percent and cutting greenhouse gas emissions by more than 3.3 million pounds of CO2. More comfortable, brighter rooms improved the academic environment in existing buildings while boosting morale. Students responded with enthusiasm – and the district reports that improved test scores were noted following the upgrades.

On time without disruption - The project met the district’s timing goal: improvements in existing buildings were completed by the time the new building opened its doors. School leaders were pleased that Trane was able to complete the upgrades to the existing buildings during evening hours, on weekends and during the summer. “One of the best aspects of the project was that there was zero interference with our instruction,” said Jones.

Positive responses - Jones reports that teachers, staff and students were just amazed by the transformation in buildings and classrooms. “One classroom would get finished and you would go by in the morning and the other teachers would all be in that classroom, oohing and owing over the new lighting or the enhancements that were done to the windows, saying how much better the room felt. Students and teachers would say, ‘when are we going to get this done in our classroom?’”

“Buy-in by everybody at the conclusion of the project was that it really was the best project I’ve done since I’ve been superintendent,” said Jones, reflecting a nine-year tenure in the role.

Hiring Challenges Averted - Jones said that his district was one of the few school divisions in Central Virginia that remained fully staffed during the 2022-2023 school year while neighboring districts struggled to do so. When you can show off a nice building and a nice facility, an inviting environment for teachers to be in, then it certainly makes it easier to attract them to our division,” said Jones.


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