Fixated on Flexibility

Serving 37,000 students in nearly 65 facilities, the Buffalo School District is regarded as a premiere urban school system in New York State. Driven by the belief that all of its schools should be safe, equitable and flexible, the district embarked on a $1.4 billion, district-wide project to modernize its facilities and equipment. The project included a multi-phase performance of $20 million over 20 years for the district.

Delivering education equally to its students across all facilities is a primary goal of the modernization plan for James Williams, superintendent, and Sue Eager, director of plant operations. Additionally, officials wished to improve the district’s energy efficiency level and student and staff safety while addressing deferred maintenance.

Together, the district, its program manager and Johnson Controls developed a plan to renovate the city’s aging schools and improve security district-wide. The renovation project resulted in an Outstanding Achievement Award in Public/Private Partnerships for the city from the United States Conference of Mayors.

“This is one of just a few projects in the country where nearly every school in an entire district is being renovated,” Williams said. “Bringing an urban school district up to basic standards is an enormous task, but because if the positive financial impact of the performance contracting project, we are in a position to do just that.”

Looking at the Big Picture
The district’s schools range from very old to relatively new. A lack of funding had led to deferred maintenance and outdated equipment in some schools, creating an inequity in academic environments.

“Our challenge in this project was not only to make all the facilities aesthetically pleasing and comfortable but also to make them perform efficiently,” Eager said. “The needs assessment was integral to ensuring that we looked at our needs from both an academic instruction perspective as well as the physical plant.”

Working with the district’s program manager, a team from Innovation Services, a part of Johnson Controls, facilitated multiple needs assessment workshops with architects, teaching and administrative staff, community members and the joint school construction board. Participants identified and prioritized facility-related needs that would support an ideal learning environment. The structured, interactive process helped the team understand what was important to the various stakeholders and why. This information helped the team create consensus and alignment for the district.

“The process not only helped us define what we would like to see, but it also helped us determine what our needs actually were,” Eager said.

First Things First
Using a multi-phased approach, Johnson Controls focused on key instructional and operational needs first, which included lighting retrofits, HVAC equipment and controls upgrades, building envelope improvements, steam traps, insulation, pool covers and installation of a Metasys building management system at select schools.

The technology contracting solution provided a single point of responsibility for installation and integration of a Johnson Controls IFC-3030 fire alarm system and a P2000 security management system, IP video surveillance, HID card readers, clocks, bells, a public address solution, auditorium sound systems, temperature controls and a master antenna system for nine schools. Johnson Controls commissioned all the systems and provided training to school employees.

Johnson Controls also worked with design engineers to completely renovate one of the district’s grade schools and redesign it with the goal of achieving Silver certification under the Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

The school serves as a model for the district’s future efforts in sustainable design.

Phases two and three included the expansion of the Metasys system, lighting retrofits, replacement of burners, boilers and steam traps, installation of boiler controllers and new interior storm windows at an additional 22 schools. In all, the Metasys system expansion allows for equipment monitoring and control at more than 50 schools.

“The benefit of this level of control is, first and foremost, energy savings, but it also provides more flexibility in how buildings and equipment can be brought online to meet academic programming needs, and it ultimately improves comfort within the learning environment,” Eager said.

“Having facilities that work handin- hand with academics helps us deliver equitable education district-wide,” Williams said. “The result is a positive impact on student achievement in all the schools we serve.”

An Emphasis on Security
Through a district-wide technology and security project, Johnson Controls set out to bring as much visibility of facilities as possible to the district’s administrative and security staff.

The project includes the installation and integration of nearly 4,000 video cameras in schools district-wide, which will be strategically placed to provide maximum visibility to major public spaces. A digital vision network system will be used for recording, archiving and retrieval of all activity captured by the cameras. The DVN system will include more than 220 recording devices upon completion.

The main offices at each school are equipped with 42-inch plasma monitors so camera activity can be viewed in real time. The monitors also can be used for visual identification of school visitors before they are allowed to enter a monitored door. A district-wide burglar alarm system is integrated with the DVN 5000 system. If an alarm is triggered, cameras automatically train on the door or window alarm point so the activity can be recorded.

As a large district, Buffalo Public Schools met some resistance to the surveillance system from a number of unions. The district must be sensitive to union agreements that make stipulations regarding privacy, while not limiting its teachers’ academic freedom. To assist the district, Johnson Controls reviewed all union agreements and is developing a comprehensive policies and procedures manual, which will clearly define how the system will and will not be used, provide camera locations and explain the purpose for recording there, and identify which cameras are monitored live.

Meeting Needs Beyond Equipment
Johnson Controls supports all installed equipment and controls under a service agreement, which includes an onsite building environment specialist. For Eager, the most important element is the comprehensive training provided by Johnson Controls and the ongoing resources available through the specialist.

“Putting new equipment and technologies in place is only one part of the process; using them properly is a another part that is critical to achieving savings,” Eager said. “As a district, we want to remain self-sufficient in the operation and maintenance of our facilities. Johnson Controls’ customized training programs have been critical to our success. And the onsite specialist continues to be a liaison of best practices as our staff transitions between installation and operation.”

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