Energy-Saving Measures Improve the Learning Environment at the Alamance-Burlington School System
The Alamance-Burlington School System (ABSS) in North Carolina is a thriving community. The district’s 23,000+ students attend 20 elementary, 7 middle, and 7 high schools throughout Alamance County. The district also boasts a career and technical high school, an early college high school, an alternative education middle/high school, and K–12 education for deaf students.
Recently the district’s administration began to address the physical and mechanical upgrades needed in the schools. Their three top priorities were lighting, plumbing, and HVAC upgrades. The first challenge they had to tackle was the perennial problem for many school systems: how to fund the needed work. They turned to the state’s performance contracting program as a potential means to get the work done.
The project was spread across more than 3.5 million square feet of building space. The district has schools that are on a traditional annual schedule and others that are on a year-round schedule. Dr. Todd Thorpe is the Assistant Superintendent of Operations for the school system. Dr. Thorpe was involved in the project from conception to completion and explains the challenge of finding the right contractor. “It was a huge project that needed to be done in a short amount of time,” he relays, “and I think that probably put some contractors off.” But he found one company that had the expertise and experience to take on the project: Building Clarity.
Building Clarity helped the district craft a scope of work that met their core requirements, saved energy, and fit the budget. The final design included enough energy savings to fund the building upgrades over the 15-year performance period.
Work began in 2019 with lighting upgrades in 37 schools. Building Clarity replaced 40,000 old, inefficient lighting fixtures with high-efficiency LED units. The majority of the old lighting fixtures were located in classrooms where the old fixtures were not providing the high-quality light needed to support student success.
“We changed every single light in every single room” says Building Clarity’s Vice President and COO Raynor Smith, PE, “and that took a lot of coordination to avoid disrupting classes.” Building Clarity worked with district staff to create a schedule that would not disrupt classes, after-school activities, and the year-round schedule of some schools. The lighting upgrades were completed after-hours, on weekends, and over spring and summer breaks. This flexible approach enabled the project to be completed by August 2019 before the new school year began.
Building Clarity replaced 15,000 aging toilets with new low-flow units. The low-flow units reduce the amount of water used and the volume of wastewater generated.
Building Clarity also replaced six chillers at five schools with new high-efficiency units. An unanticipated problem arose during one chiller startup. An aging valve downstream of the boiler burst and water flooded a nearby classroom. Although the issue was not within the scope of Building Clarity’s responsibility, the team took immediate action to replace the valve and stop the flow of water into the school. Smith remembers it well. “On that Friday night, five people from Building Clarity showed up to help with the cleanup. The team returned on Sunday to install a new ceiling and put the classroom back together. So on Monday morning, students were back in class as if nothing had happened!”
Dr. Thorpe also remembers it well and with satisfaction. “There was no argument about who was responsible. Building Clarity just said ‘we’ll take care of it’ and they did. They went beyond the call of duty. That was just one example of their professionalism.”
The upgrades are projected to save the district more than $700,000 per year in avoided energy and operational costs. These savings over the 15-year performance term will cover the project costs. After the term is completed, the district can use the savings for other district needs.
The project benefits are not just monetary. Students are enjoying much better lighting and sound environments in the classroom. The schools have more reliable HVAC systems. The district is reducing their water consumption and carbon footprint.
Building Clarity is proud to be part of these successes. As Smith describes it, “Our customer was not only the superintendent of the school system. It was every teacher, student, and parent. Because what we’re ultimately offering is not new lights and new chillers. We’re offering our clients better light quality, better heating and HVAC controllability, and modern school environments.”