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Public Schools Invest in the Best HVAC Systems. Why Are They Allowed to Degrade So Quickly?

Here in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, almost all major HVAC projects in public schools start out with noble intentions. Most school districts invest in advanced, high-efficiency equipment and state-of-the art building controls systems. Reputable contractors closely adhere to design parameters and strict startup and commissioning standards are met. Comparatively few private-sector building systems are advanced as those commonly found in new public schools.

Why is it, then, that so many new school HVAC systems degrade in performance so soon after projects are completed?

First, in contrast to the meticulous attention to detail that occurs during design and installation public schools tend to be very lax when it comes to properly maintaining their mechanical systems. At the end of a project, facilities should always have the commissioning agent write a comprehensive retro-commissioning plan to be performed on an annual or semi-annual basis to ensure the building continues to perform to the original design intent. Unfortunately, this rarely happens on school projects.

School systems also frequently fail to stay on top of making sure maintenance personnel are qualified to maintain and operate their building systems, and they neglect to train new employees when there is turnover. Further, poor HVAC system performance is often the direct result of misinformed actions by underqualified and/or unsupervised maintenance staff. When instruments drift out of calibration, parts fail, or operational issues occur, there is a high tendency for employees to remedy these problems by taking shortcuts, overriding controls or switching systems to manual mode.

Finally, school systems tend to drop the ball when selecting a PM contractor. Advanced building systems call for contractors with advanced technical knowledge, but public schools usually opt for low-bidders who are seldom qualified to maintain and service high-tech geothermal, heat pumps, heat recovery wheels, air-to-air heat exchangers, run-around glycol systems, and the like.

So, what can be done? Public schools could save themselves untold problems, expenses, and the grief of comfort complaints from students and faculty if they would only follow through on actually achieving their systems’ promises of high efficiency and performance. This is done through regular maintenance and retro-commissioning and stringent personnel training and supervision. Expert HVAC specialists and commissioning agents like MSC can produce a comprehensive PM SOP for high-tech systems after the fact, as we have frequently done in the past for schools, hospitals, pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities, laboratories, etc.


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