Fontana School District Leaders Use Hot Trend To Cool Their Schools

Fontana Unified School District was worried that their 38,000 students were too uncomfortable to focus and learn. The district’s antiquated roof top units couldn’t keep up with the demand to moderate temperatures throughout their buildings.

Fontana Energy Manager Errol Glen and Director of Maintenance and Operations, Bob Copeland, were worried because teachers and administrators were complaining about the heat, concerned that students weren’t learning at their potential in such stifling buildings.

Most of the district’s budget was earmarked for educational resources and staff, leaving the replacement of the roof top units at the bottom of the priority list. To keep the systems running, it was often necessary to spend excessive time repairing the inefficient systems, eeking out every last bit of conditioned air they could produce to provide comfortable learning spaces. The repairs were piece-mealed together to prolong the life of the dilapidated air conditioning units on the roofs of the districts 45 schools. The energy intensive system was strained to the max daily, at risk of not functioning at any moment.

But Glen and Copeland had a hot idea.  They decided to cool down the district’s buildings utilizing Proposition 39, the California Clean Energy Jobs Act.

Prop 39 legislation provides $2.5 billion in funding for local educational agencies to improve their energy systems and implement clean energy projects at their campuses. That means Fontana could replace their roof top units at no cost to the district.

Once they had the Prop 39 funding in place, school leaders were faced with another hurdle: there was a time crunch to complete the project during the summer months, when the students and staff were on break. If the roof top units weren’t installed in that time frame, the result would be students and staff returning to uninhabitable buildings.

The district leveraged all available resources including the California Conservation Corps (CCC), and SmartWatt, a design-build energy systems optimization firm.  SmartWatt had experience in with the CCC and implementing projects through Prop 39 under the strict time frames required by schools.

Glen, Copeland and the energy experts got to work outlining the district’s issues and needs, designing a project and applying for the funds. Once the California Energy Commission (CEC) approved their project, the energy engineering company installed 201 high efficiency roof top units on four of the district’s 45 schools whose systems were most in disrepair.

The school also can better operate the new system as each roof top unit is equipped with new controllers that are tied into the building automation system’s remote interface. Now it is a snap for the district to schedule and monitor the units to operate at peak times and shut off when the school is empty. The new control system also features an open protocol infrastructure allowing the district the option to integrate additional systems — any brand or type — in the future.

The project resulted in Glen and Copeland unveiling optimal schools to students and staff returning for the 2016 school year without paying a dime or raising taxes. Teachers and staff were happy, kids were learning and the district was saving energy, time on maintenance and money on high energy bills. It is estimated that the district will save $430,000 annually in energy savings.

The U.S. Department of Education was so impressed with the Fontana project, spearheaded by Glen and Copeland, that they recently honored the district with an award for the “Highest number of RTU installations that meet/exceed RTU Challenge specification” on behalf of an annual campaign from the Better Buildings Alliance.

With the first round of projects complete, and an award in hand, Copeland, Glen and the energy experts are working together to develop additional energy optimization projects for the school. The projects include Title 24 compliant interior and exterior lighting upgrades in 2017 and the replacement of the remaining roof top units in 2018. Both projects will be 100 percent funded through Prop 39.

Glen and Copeland’s real prize though is being able to walk through the upgraded buildings and see students learning, teachers teaching and every occupant comfortable from a project that didn’t take money away from educational programs.

 

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