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Sustainability in Action: Powhatan County Public Schools

How Powhatan County (Virginia) Public Schools’ district-wide upgrades increased energy efficiency, reduced carbon emissions, lowered energy costs, and enhanced the learning environment for the district’s 4,500 students.

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Project At-a-Glance:

The opportunity: Help Powhatan County (VA) Public Schools address deferred maintenance needs to enhance lighting; improve air quality, heating, and cooling; and upgrade inefficient systems to lower costs and environmental impact. 

The solution: Developing, in partnership with the school district and energy provider, a comprehensive plan of upgrades to lighting fixtures, HVAC and water systems, and energy management, leveraging energy savings to pay for the upgrades.

Sustainability outcomes:

  • Enhanced learning environment and indoor air quality 
  • Reduced energy costs by more than 20 percent
  • Cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1,500 mtCO2e

When leaders at Powhatan County Public Schools (PCPS) undertook plans to build a new middle school, they recognized that in order to preserve equity across the Virginia school district, they would also need to address years of deferred maintenance needs at their other four school buildings. To develop a cost-effective solution, PCPS partnered with Trane®, whose comprehensive auditing, energy modeling, strategic partnerships, and state-of-the-art sustainable technologies would help transform the four outdated buildings into optimal spaces for teaching and learning.

The power of planning and partnership

The older buildings faced multiple challenges: Dim, outdated lighting; poor indoor air quality; and inconsistent heating and cooling made the classrooms dreary and uncomfortable. Leaders also wanted to upgrade inefficient equipment, combat increasing maintenance costs, reduce rising utility spend, and lower the district’s environmental impact.

To begin, Trane conducted a technical audit of all district buildings and created a business case for the upgrades. Using energy modeling to evaluate potential solutions, the team compiled a list of proposed energy conservation measures and associated paybacks, recommending that the district focus on five high-impact areas:

  • Lighting and water upgrades
  • Building envelope improvements
  • Energy management
  • Equipment recommissioning
  • Ongoing service

To fund the improvements, Trane and PCPS negotiated an energy performance contract with the district’s existing energy service, allowing the district to leverage future energy savings to pay for the upgrades. Trane also helped the district streamline purchases, secure better pricing, and expedite delivery by partnering with Omnia Partners®, one of the largest cooperative-purchasing organizations for public sector procurement in the country.

Comprehensive solutions for efficient, healthier spaces

The project team started with a lighting upgrade, replacing more than 10,500 internal and external incandescent lighting fixtures with brighter, more efficient, and longer-lasting LED fixtures. 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.

To address the indoor air quality and inconsistent heating and cooling, 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. Trane also evaluated window and door insulation and implemented building envelopment improvements to reduce drafts and air leakage.

"Numerous studies have clearly shown that the learning environment within a school plays a significant role in student achievement. For this reason alone, our performance contracting project with Trane was a huge success. Add to this the fact that we are paying for these upgrades and new equipment through energy savings, and it is easy to see why I believe this is one of the best projects Powhatan County Public Schools has ever completed."

Eric Jones

Former PCPS Superintendent

Installing low-flow fixtures and valves helped reduce water and sewer costs, while recommissioning the district’s existing energy management system (EMS) helped ensure proper operation and control. By upgrading pneumatic equipment controls and stand-alone thermostats to digital technologies and integrating them into the EMS, the district was able to implement energy-saving strategies such as demand control ventilation.

Finally, 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 allows teachers to make simple temperature adjustments on their laptops.

Seamless installation and ongoing impact

Trane was able to complete the scope of work during evening hours, on weekends, and over the summer, ensuring that the project never interfered with classroom instruction and was completed before the new building opened its doors, an important timing goal set by the district.

The upgrades improved 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 and community morale. Students and staff responded with enthusiasm; the district reports that test scores improved following the upgrades.

“Numerous studies have clearly shown that the learning environment within a school plays a significant role in student achievement,” says former PCPS Superintendent Eric Jones, who led the district through the upgrades. “For this reason alone, our performance contracting project with Trane was a huge success. Add to this the fact that we are paying for these upgrades and new equipment through energy savings, and it is easy to see why I believe this is one of the best projects Powhatan County Public Schools has ever completed.”

Powhatan County Public Schools Customer Story

Powhatan county is an urban rural school division of about 5 000 students we have a wonderful school division that is high performing and is really the centerpiece of our community we had a lot of challenges that we were facing within our buildings when we were looking for solutions part of the field prior to the upgrades coming to pocahontas elementary school was that it was uh it was dark it was getting to that point of being old things weren't necessarily always working correctly there was a sense of just the building beginning to show its age upgrading our lighting and hvac systems was a priority for powerpoint school division because the savings that we realized from that could be redirected to other needs such as in the classroom but it was also very important because we knew that those systems needed to be upgraded we selected train as our energy service partner for a couple different reasons the first one is because of their reputation we knew that trane was a leader in the area in terms of performance contracting we really were looking for a partner because this was outside of our wheelhouse so to speak and we were looking for someone who could really do a very nice job turnkey solutions and and help us and guide us through that process valentine was having issues that are very common actually across the entire k-12 landscape back at the great recession in 2008 those school systems were receiving less money from their state as well as their county governments and so consequently over the years their deferred remains grew and that's what happened to paluten our smart energy engineers and project developers do an energy audit to help us determine whether actually there is an opportunity to do performance contracting so there were several ecms or energy conservation measures that we implemented throughout all the schools including led lighting upgrades low flow water fixtures building envelope improvements as well as building automation system optimization we're seeing the benefit you can't give us windows it's a very costly ex expense but having these lights definitely makes it seem brighter throughout the building and gives it that more natural feel one of the best things about this project is it didn't affect our operation four buildings completely redone with lighting with hvac enhancements with other energy efficiency methods and not one complaint is quite frankly remarkable they came in and changed out the pieces and within a matter of a few weeks after that the system was up and running fully i would highly recommend trane because their leaders in the industry they have the experience and based on my experience working with trane you're not going to find a better partner that's going to look out for your needs throughout the whole project more than train

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