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Preventative Maintenance: Improving Energy Performance in Schools

Springfield, MA

Springfield, Massachusetts


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The mechanical and electrical systems in many of Springfield's public schools had been operating sub-optimally. Inefficiencies such as dust-covered air filters and ventilators wasted energy and decreased the air quality in the classrooms. In some schools, there were extreme temperature differences throughout the buildings; some rooms were extremely warm while others were so cold that students wore their winter jackets during class.

The City hired technicians to do preventative maintenance and train staff to sustain efficiency through ongoing maintenance. The project set out to:

  • Reduce energy consumption, costs, and greenhouse gas emissions
  • Extend the life of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment in schools
  • Improve indoor air quality in schools
  • Empower the building custodial staff to integrate energy-saving maintenance work into their daily duties

The project aimed to achieve these four outcomes in at least 12 of the public schools.

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Building on Existing Energy Conservation Work

Prior to the EPA CSC grant award, an audit revealed that preventative maintenance could improve efficiency and extend the life of existing HVAC equipment in City buildings.

The City of Springfield used the grant to establish a four-person crew to improve energy efficiency in the public schools. They used a multi-pronged approach to leverage existing knowledge about identifying and correcting mechanical and electrical inefficiencies by collaborating with the City's tradesmen, conducting online research, and learning from activities that the City conducted under the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant. To learn more about the specific buildings, the crew worked with municipal staff who routinely service the buildings for other purposes, such as firefighters who are familiar with the building construction, design, and facilities. Dedicated staff members were driven by their conviction that comfortable and healthy buildings create better learning environments.

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Maximizing Energy Efficiency and Improving Air Quality in Schools

Technicians and on-site custodial staff received on-the-job training and increased their knowledge about energy conservation. The Facilities Engineer trained the four-person HVAC Control crew to:

  • Compare the original building and system plans and specifications with existing building control strategies, building codes, and standards;
  • Document all mechanical and electrical pieces of equipment;
  • Identify mechanical and electrical inefficiencies; and
  • Clean and care for equipment to maximize function and minimize the need to replace parts.

The City demonstrated that simple maintenance tasks, such as greasing shafts and bearings, replacing filters and cleaning coils, recalibrating systems, and installing new thermostats could significantly increase efficiency and reduce replacement costs.

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Navigating Obstacles

The project had to navigate through a number of obstacles that included gaining support and minimizing the impacts of the construction.

City Council Approval: The project timeline was extended to provide the City Council with sufficient time to conduct hearings and identify qualified candidates for the HVAC Control crew.

Project Support: Several school administrators were initially hesitant to increase building maintenance on school grounds. The team used slideshow presentations with visuals, such as those in Figure 1, which emphasized the benefits of improved indoor air quality. Through the process of highlighting successes achieved in other district schools, the project gained credibility and increased participation to 17 schools, exceeding the goal of 12 schools. In retrospect, directly approaching each school's principal, rather than the superintendent, could have resulted in more rapid support and adoption of the program.

On-site Disruptions: The work was scheduled around class sessions to minimize potential distractions for students and staff. By providing schools with a schedule in advance, the team was able to gain access to more classrooms during each visit. Schools with space limitations, students with special needs, and state testing increased the need for effective coordination. By working in pairs at two schools, the crew was able to minimize disruption at any one school. They also took advantage of summer months when school programs were limited.

Construction Dust and Debris: To avoid releasing dust and debris into classrooms during maintenance activities, the crew reached out to a tradesman to help build a sheet metal hood with vacuum attachments around the classroom unit ventilator.

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Monitoring & Evaluation

The project used both quantitative and qualitative measures to record and demonstrate project success in the areas of energy efficiency and indoor environmental health.

Energy Efficiency: The City began collecting baseline energy use data for all City buildings during the 2007 fiscal year in preparation for assessing the impact of a $15M ESCO project. Springfield relies on their Energy Account Manager to update the in-house Excel spreadsheet to track each City building's energy usage and greenhouse gas reductions. The initial baseline data was stored in the Mass Energy Insight tool Exit. The City plans to transition tracking activities to the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager when funds are available. Ongoing data collection indicates that energy savings have continued over the past two years, following the conclusion of the grant.

Indoor Air Quality: The City also worked with the indoor air quality consultant to gather student asthma data from the school nurses. Of the 17 schools, 15 reported reduced or constant asthma rates. Attendance rates and Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test scores from the project sites were reviewed, but the City was unable to draw conclusive correlations because these metrics are influenced by multiple factors.

Qualitative Evidence: The crew visually captured the direct results of cleaning dust off the air filters by recording before and after images of the unit ventilators and other equipment at each school site.

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Facilitating Long-Term Maintenance

The preventative maintenance crew received training on building technology to improve their knowledge of the latest models of equipment. Vendors and contractors hosted "Lunch and Learn" meetings, where they explained installation and maintenance requirements for specific equipment. The crew also attended a training session on asbestos awareness.

Collaboration with on-site custodial staff made it easier for the external team to conduct the initial preventative maintenance, and it motivated the on-site staff to continue the practices after the crew completed their work. The custodial director proved to be a valuable liaison by communicating to the on-site staff that the crew would provide training while conducting the initial work. This helped facilitate cooperation and ensure that the long-term benefits of the preventative maintenance would be sustained.

The preventative maintenance team helped build the on-site custodial staff's awareness of energy efficiency and conservation practices by sharing the knowledge they gained from the program. The crew shared knowledge about how to maintain the buildings' mechanical and electrical equipment at the optimal performance and efficiency levels. They showed custodial staff how to recognize and predict which parts are worn before failures occur. The crew created custom manuals for each building outlining how to continue preventative maintenance of the buildings' systems. Each manual contained a general introduction to the program, a checklist of procedures, and an inventory of every piece of mechanical and electrical equipment in the building.

By integrating these activities into daily, weekly, and monthly custodial duties, the benefits of the preventative maintenance program can be extended in perpetuity. After completing the preventative maintenance activities, the crews returned to the sites to ensure that the training was successful and answer any questions from the custodial staff.

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Next Steps

The City of Springfield was able to justify hiring the four person maintenance crew as full-time employees based on the energy and cost savings from the program. In addition to continuing energy efficiency and conservation efforts in additional Springfield public schools, the team is investigating opportunities to expand the program to reach other public and residential buildings. In collaboration with the City's environmental/indoor air quality specialist and recycling coordinator, the strategy will be implemented through an educational outreach program.

Looking beyond Springfield, the City is sharing their insights and lessons learned through the state-wide Green Communities Designation and Grant Program.

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Bring Preventative Maintenance to Your Community!

Staff Needs: A total of four full-time equivalent preventative maintenance crew members for 26 months, working on 17 schools.

Cost: The City of Springfield received an EPA CSC grant award of $491,067 to fund the four-person crew and pay for the required materials. The City also leveraged rebates from its local electric utility, Western Mass Electric Company, to meet the required recipient contribution of $245,534.

Available Resources:

  • Pottenger School Preventative Maintenance Manual
  • Mason Square Daycare Facility Condition Index Calculator
  • Springfield Green Communities Annual Report

Learn from Similar Climate Showcase Communities Programs:

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Contact Information

Facilities Management, City of Springfield
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