The Athens City School Board listened to a presentation last Thursday evening from Mike Dingeldein of Community Design Alliance regarding sustainable design options for the district’s facilities master-plan project.
The firm is serving on the design team for the project, headed by Schorr Architects of Dublin, Ohio.
Primarily, Dingledein said that the key to the project should be creating building envelopes that will employ the most sustainable and energy-efficient designs the district can afford, while on-site renewable energy sources would be considered as a later step.
“This is about broad strategy,” Dingledein said, “…Doing all of the things that make a building sustainable, and it’s about more than energy.”
In his presentation, Dingeldein defined sustainable design simply as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
At the center of it all, Dingeldein said, are three core concepts, the “three Ps”: Prosperity, People and Planet. Those three concepts overlap, he said.
“When I get into arguments with people about the needs for sustainability,” he said, “I tell them… we really need to agree on these two things… reducing the cost to run buildings and making buildings healthier places to be.”
One set of guidelines in place to ensure sustainable building design for the new schools is the LEED certification system, administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, which was the focus of much of Dingeldein’s presentation. The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC), the state agency that must approve the project in order for the district to receive state funds to complete it, requires a minimum certification of LEED Silver, Dingeldein said. He argued that despite criticisms that the LEED program has received, including from local critics, the program is continually improving.
“The Green Building Council has constantly pushed the envelope. As things have gotten better and technology has gotten better, they’ve advanced the goal-setting,” Dingeldein said. “…(LEED) has become kind of the main credential that people use in the building industry.”
Dingeldein also reviewed some of the criticisms of LEED, including arguments that the points-based system the program utilizes is antiquated and doesn’t reflect the quality of a building’s impact, as some district residents have expressed.
“LEED has never been about confirmation of ongoing performance,” Dingeldein said. “LEED is a snapshot the day you get your plaque and the building opens: nobody goes back and makes sure that any of that stuff continues. That’s changing.”
In response to these criticisms, Dingeldein said the U.S. Green Building Council has made changes, for example adding a requirement that buildings receive a federal Energy Star rating of 75 or higher.
“The Energy Star rating has been around since the ’80s, and it is an actual verification of annual energy use… relative to how every building in the country performs,” Dingeldein said.
He explained that a score of 75 means that the building performs better than 75% of buildings in the country. “It has to be certified by an entire year’s energy bill, and it has to be verified by a third party,” he said, adding that the system ensures that someone will be continually checking in on energy usage for these buildings. “It’s getting better.”
The OFCC has also required that all new schools must be built ready for photovoltaic (PV), or solar, panels.
“They believe PV is an emerging technology, that’s it’s going to get more effective and less expensive… but for now, every school, including these, will have to be structurally ready for rooftop energy,” namely solar, Dingeldein said.
Dingeldein also spoke about LEED zero, a new set of certifications (adopted in September 2018) based around achieving “net-zero,” when production is equal to consumption, in four categories: carbon, water, energy and waste.
“They go on top of your LEED standard certification,” Dingeldein explained. “...You don’t get these LEED zero ratings when you open your building. You get them after you’ve had a full year of occupancy, and you can certify that you’re zero in one of those four categories... (or) all four of them.”
The net-zero energy certification is based on the quantity of energy consumed and generated, respectively, by the project as a whole. Dingeldein said the guidelines suggest that a qualifying building’s energy could be generated on site or off site. However the guidelines are contradictory, he added, so it’s unclear whether off-site energy could count toward a net-zero energy rating.
“That’s a huge difference, because it’s difficult and expensive and complicated to do on-site renewables,” Dingeldein said. “…But if we can procure off-site renewable energy… that’s a big deal and that is someplace, I think, we can start to look.”
Dingeldein spoke about the need to find alternative funding strategies for renewable energy sources, citing the Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, as a potential option “to find some additional funding for the more expensive… sustainable strategies.”
“...PACE is an opportunity to borrow money, to do energy improvements and then pay that money back with those energy savings. So it’s a way to generate money upfront,” Dingeldein said, although he said he hasn’t heard of any other school districts using PACE.
Most critically, Dingeldein said designing a sustainable building envelope is crucial, and that careful decisions regarding HVAC, electrical systems and envelope design features will have the greatest impact.
“Something that has nothing to do with on-site renewables is making building envelopes… mechanical systems and electrical systems much more efficient,” Dingeldein said
ALSO AT THURSDAY’S SCHOOL Board meeting, Engineer John Kerr, of Roger D. Fields Associates, Inc. of Columbus, went through some of the details for energy-efficient options in a number of systems. His company is also working with the project design team.
“Anything we can do to improve the energy efficiency of the building envelope,” whether that be choice of insulation, glass, and/or other materials, is on the table, according to Kerr.
“Mechanical systems are one of the bigger energy-consuming engines in a building,” Kerr said. “Whatever we can do to make them as small as possible by reducing the amount of energy needed from an envelope standpoint… is going to make the energy better.”
Kerr said “there are a lot of players” involved in making those decisions, and that the design team would carefully consider every detail regarding envelope design.
“Once we get the building as well as it can be done and the systems as clean and energy efficient as they can be, then… we’ll add on-site renewable energy to offset any of those other costs of trying to get down to that net-zero, and it’s all done within the budget,” Kerr said.
Athens City School Supt. Tom Gibbs and School Board President Kim Goldsberry both said that the district has been in conversations with local entities, including Third Sun Solar, to determine what would be the cost to install PV panels on-site.
Gibbs also said that the district currently monitors the energy use of each building on a monthly basis.