Once a building is operational, there can still be factors that disrupt its efficiency and keep it from functioning as designed. Achieving efficient operation can be challenging, which is why more and more schools are implementing building monitoring technology to help solve this problem.

A longtime partner to the second-largest school district in the state of Kansas, Henderson Engineers designed the building systems for the district’s fifth high school, Olathe West. Because an energy-efficient school was a priority for the district, our team designed sustainable systems that integrated with a building monitoring platform that generates live reports on the school’s electricity, gas, and water usage. These real-time analytics not only help the school operate more cost-effectively, but also provide data for the school’s Green Technology Academy curriculum, one of two 21st Century Academies at the school that provides hands-on learning opportunities students can apply towards their post-secondary careers.

WHAT IS BUILDING MONITORING?

Designed to assist facility personnel in managing multiple systems and buildings from an easy-to-operate dashboard, monitoring technology increases manpower by providing better tools to do the job. The technology does not replace regular building management software, but instead integrates with it, allowing operations personnel to identify and resolve issues quicker.

The documented needs of the facility are used to create alarms within the management software. For instance, if the temperature of a classroom isn’t within the ideal predetermined range, an alarm can be set to notify personnel of the potential operational issue. Whether the thermostat has been adjusted onsite or an electrical malfunction has occurred, the facility manager can then address the issue before the teacher and students recognize the temperature variance.

The monitoring dashboard can be visited regularly or in response to alarms, depending on staff availability. At Henderson Building Solutions, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Henderson Engineers, we have a team who regularly reviews our clients’ building monitoring dashboards serving as an extension of their facility team. This technology allows our staff to help monitor, prevent, and solve issues without being onsite. This access also frees up onsite facility personnel to manage regular maintenance schedules and minimizes the likelihood of major system issues.

WHY DO SCHOOLS NEED BUILDING MONITORING?

Schools face unique operation constraints that make building monitoring an effective facility management tool.

  • Limited budgets. Public funding is an obstacle for most educational institutions. Capital and operational budgets often don’t go far enough and regular budget cuts can impact staffing and operational costs. While implementing building monitoring technology has an up-front cost, most schools are finding that the ability to maximize facility staff and operational efficiency offset the initial investment.
  • Limited staff. Education is experiencing a labor shortage. Many buildings are understaffed or have maintenance employees close to retirement. Faced with limited staff, regular maintenance can be deferred to focus on immediate facility needs like constant hot/cold calls. Inexperienced staff can impact trouble-shooting and even decrease the overall efficiency of building systems. Building monitoring can make managing hot/cold calls less time-consuming. It also provides data that the facilities team can use to improve operational efficiency.
  • Irregular schedules. Because schools have unique hours of operation, they present an opportunity for issues to arise and go unnoticed when the building is unoccupied. However, monitoring software has preset criteria that can determine proper operation, so it can be set to inform facility managers when variances indicate potential issues. For example, if a restroom can’t maintain proper temperatures during the holiday break, the software would alert maintenance personnel before pipes freeze and create a bigger problem.
HOW IS BUILDING MONITORING CHANGING EDUCATION?

When the Olathe School District built their new high school, they faced many of these same challenges. Because Olathe is one of the fastest-growing suburbs in Kansas City, the district needed a strategic plan that allowed for the gradual addition of students to Olathe West High School throughout the first four years. The team at Henderson worked in collaboration with the district and facility personnel to employ an advanced VRF system that would allow them to achieve their goals. The building monitoring team at Henderson Building worked with the facilities staff to employ an ongoing strategy to manage their building systems. Once it was operational, we trained onsite personnel, set up parameters for the data they wanted to see, and helped them balance dormant and occupied spaces as the school’s student population increased.

Olathe West High School shares the monitoring data with students through one of their 21st Century Academies, Green Tech Academy. The Green Tech Academy helps students learn about the importance of energy-efficient technology and gives them the opportunity to have a hand in how energy is used at the school itself. Interactive displays outside the Green Tech Academy classroom highlight utility usage numbers from the school. Inside the classroom, students get to explore and invent strategies to improve energy consumption. The program not only encourages kids to care about the environment, but it also teaches students that when they see a problem, they can be a part of the solution.

The success of building monitoring at Olathe West High School and the Green Tech Academy caused the Olathe School District to implement the technology in several other schools. Now, after a four-year partnership, the team at Olathe has all the tools they need to keep their facilities running efficiently. If you would like to learn more about building monitoring, contact us here.



About the Authors

Greg York


Commissioning Agent | Project Manager
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As one of our commissioning agents, Greg York has been testing and balancing complex building systems in hospitals, schools, and other spaces for more than a decade. Working directly with the design and construction team to ensure building performance, he truly understands the way things work. We think of Greg as someone who has the ability to see systems holistically, even when he is working inside an air handling unit. Whether it’s his push to maximize efficiency or his drive to produce the best project outcome, he and his team at Henderson Building Solutions all come together every day for one primary goal: to deliver a space where people are happy and healthy. And Greg won’t stop until he gets the job done right. This Tennessee native brings more than just his technical proficiency to the office. Greg’s southern hospitality is certainly reflected in his work, and has had a positive impact on his relationships with both colleagues and clients. Even though he’s one of our newest team members — joining our Henderson family in 2017 — it’s safe to say we’ll keep him around for a while.