Extending the life of each school building while saving money
On June 26, the Elizabeth Board of Education approved a contract with Schneider Electric to carry out more than $4.5 million in improvements to Elizabeth schools, including replacement of fluorescent lighting with much more energy-efficient and long-lasting LED lights, sealing buildings so they do not lose heat in the winter or allow hot air in during warmer months, and catching up on long-deferred maintenance.
These and other improvements will result in millions of dollars in energy-cost savings over the next 20 years. As part of the agreement with Schneider, the district was loaned the total of those savings up front to carry out these and other improvements, including upgrades to the electronic climate control systems at each building. Schneider Electric guaranteed those cost savings: If the district does not realize the estimated total of those savings, Schneider will pay the difference -- thus the project carries no financial risk to the district.
By improving the control systems, Running Creek Elementary and Singing Hills Elementary will be much more ready to have air conditioning installed if the district is able to obtain the additional $6 million to $7 million for cooling. The district has already applied for grants to fund air conditioning in those buildings.
The entire effort, which is called the Resource Efficiency Initiative (REI), is summarized in the graphic below.
Another aspect of the REI includes high school interns being able to learn from the engineers and other professionals who will be working in the buildings until the end of 2024.
Updates on the progress of the REI will be posted here periodically.
REI at a glance
Initial steps in the school district's Resource Efficiency Initiative began in the first week of November, with partner Schneider Electric replacing fluorescent lighting in Elizabeth High School classrooms.
Crews from Schneider's lighting subcontractor, McBride Lighting & Electrical Services, will make their way through every school in the district, mostly after hours, to install LED lights which use much less power and are longer lasting and brighter.
Interns learn in & outs of engineering and their own school
Four new interns don’t have to go far at all to feed their interest in engineering. Elizabeth High School’s unique internship program gives students the chance to learn about career fields that interest them well before they have to make choices about their post-graduation plans.
Technicians and engineers from global energy efficiency and sustainability company Schneider Electric are working their way through EHS – and soon every other school in the district. They are overhauling electronic climate control systems and replacing all fluorescent lights with more efficient and less costly LEDs. Those professionals are also providing a group of EHS interns with a broad view of different kinds of engineering, contracting and maintenance career options.
Elizabeth School District entered into an agreement with Schneider Electric earlier this year to make cost-saving improvements to its buildings and then reinvest current and future savings into long-deferred maintenance projects and upgrades that will both extend the useful life of each building and set the stage for even greater improvements including, eventually, air conditioning at both elementary schools. The project is called the Resource Efficiency Initiative, and part of that agreement with Schneider Electric was not only to carry out all the improvements but also to provide learning opportunities to students while the work is being done.
Last week, project manager Alex Williams was joined by Jennifer Verdugo, automation engineer, and Zachary Wilder, automation project lead, in launching the internships of Trace Burrow, Tyler Deering, Kyle Gustafson and Evelyn Malakowski.
Wilder and Verdugo told the interns that Schneider Electric employees work all over the world. Recently, both have worked on multiple projects from Japan to Spain, and in just the last few weeks, they have worked on projects in Alabama, California and Kansas. Verdugo recently had a project with NASA, too.
As building automation engineers, they design systems to automate lighting, gas, water and electricity to both save staff time and make the buildings more efficient. By programming a system to let computers do most of that work, the cost of operating a building can be much lower than manually controlling each system.
Wilder said their work can sometimes range from examining, redesigning and replacing a system in a day and a half all the way to the kind of project he’s also helping with in Japan, which started in 2019 and is still ongoing.
Wilder said he had started some of the work on that job, and Verdugo took over from him. “We all work together in a way that we can easily hand off to someone else.” Verdugo said she enjoys the fact that no job is the same, and there’s lots of movement from one job to the next.
Mechanical engineers worked on the first steps of the Elizabeth School District project, then handed it over to the next team and may not return to it for six months. Meanwhile, Williams will be on-site every week. Operating in a team dynamic like that, “you have to be thorough and be good at communication,” he said.
The students were presented with the reflective vests and hard hats they will wear whenever they are on site as work is being done. The helmets were unassembled, and to make a point about different ways to communicate, Williams had two students work with Wilder as he told them how to assemble the hard hats but didn’t show them. Meanwhile, Verdugo showed but didn’t tell the other two students how to put theirs together. Both groups struggled at times but eventually everyone’s helmet was assembled – and both teams took roughly the same amount of time to complete the task.
Once equipped with their personal protective equipment, the Schneider team showed the interns 15 pages of EHS plans and schematics they had already assembled after three weeks and four rounds of revisions. “We have to answer as many questions as possible with these so we can hand them over to installers and make their work as clear as possible,” Verdugo said. Williams noted that, depending on the job, some sets of plans can be hundreds of pages.
Wilder said one aspect of being an engineer that’s rewarding to him is being able to hand over a finished package and, years later, receive photos from a job where those plans were completed. Verdugo added that part of their job is capturing the fundamentals of what people do and how they use a building space so they can make it overall better for people to enjoy being there.
Williams added that it’s amazing to see their work translated to having giant cranes – or sometimes even helicopters – putting units in place on top of buildings. “It’s like being a kid and playing with toys but this is life-size, real and makes a difference,” he said.
After the introductions, the Schneider Electric team took the students on a tour of the work being done at EHS, from the boiler room to the pipes and conduit above ceiling tiles as well as the lights and ventilation system in the gym. The students will have opportunities to observe several different upgrades, take online classes that explain even more and, perhaps most useful of all, pick the brains of numerous visiting experts. In fact, the students started doing that right away, getting tips on post-graduation options, different types of engineering paths, and where Schneider Electric offers college internships.