At the end of June, I received a certified letter from Pradeep Dixit, executive director of BCPS physical facilities department. The letter summarized the results of their assessment of Westowne’s building systems and answered some of the questions I had asked regarding air conditioning prioritization.
When we started our letter-writing campaign, we were told by BCPS that they use a metric called CAGE (cost, age, geography and enrollment) to determine which schools get air conditioning and when. Through our Southwest Area advisor and BCPS government liaison, I had asked what is Westowne’s CAGE score. Here is their response:
Please be aware that Baltimore County Public Schools is committed to providing a climate controlled environment in every school in as timely a manner as possible. To that end, please know that there is no “scoring” system used to evaluate and prioritize schools regarding the installation of air conditioning.
This answer seems to negate the previous answer. If you do not use a scoring system, like CAGE, then what system do you use? Has the CAGE policy been abandoned? But the letter goes on to say the following:
The Department of Physical Facilities utilizes a disciplined and methodical approach which includes the continual evaluation and prioritization regarding the needs of our schools, and in particular the need to provide air conditioning. We are using a variety of funding options to address the identified needs including the state’s Aging School Program, Energy Performance Contracting, as well as funding from the county that is directed specifically to air conditioning.
This paragraph above references the Aging Schools Fund, which is an alternative funding source for school construction projects. Westowne would qualify for these funds because of our FARM (free and reduced meals) percentage. In our lobbying efforts we have asked to apply for these funds in an effort to ease the financial burden on the county for our air conditioning upgrade. I can’t tell what their answer means. But there is more:
As a result of this process of evaluation and prioritization, Westowne Elementary was part of our submission for the FY-14 capital budget under planning for renovation. Additionally, Johnson Controls conducted an energy audit of Westowne Elementary and has recommended energy conservation projects that are scheduled to be completed over the next 12 to 15 months. These projects include lighting retrofit, energy management system enhancements, and improved pipe insulation.
This sounds great. Wonder what energy management system enhancements are? Does an energy audit also look at ventilation and climate control? Without air conditioning, we don’t use very much energy so I don’t see how we could conserve any more.
The following is a summary of their assessment of our building’s temperatures. Remember the thermostats they installed in the classrooms? The workers who entered the classrooms with temperature probes? This is what they found:
Due to concerns about the potential for elevated temperatures in Westowne Elementary, a study was conducted during the final five weeks of this past school year to assess thermal conditions in the building. The study was conducted by placing temperature/relative humidity data logging monitors in selected classrooms during the study period. The data collected was evaluated in relation to outside conditions. In summary, the highest measured temperature in the school was 85 degrees (on May 30 and May 31) and the temperature in the school was normally below the outside air temperature during the school day (Table 1). The exception to this was when the unit ventilator in classroom 25 had been turned off by the teacher. This was noted by staff on several site visits.
Relative humidity was also monitored during the study. The highest relative humidity levels in the building occurred when temperatures were between 68 degrees F and 78 degrees F. The relative humidity reached a peak of 82% on June 10 in room 25; this resulted in a heat index of 81 degrees F (Table 2).
The temperature and relative humidity data was used to calculate heat index during peak temperature periods. The peak heat index inside of the building were consistently lower than the outside heat indexes. The highest calculated outside heat index was 88 degrees F (on May 30). The highest calculated inside heat index was 87 degrees F (on May 30) in room 21 (Table 3).
So without directly saying it, they do have some fairly disturbing findings: 88% humidity and 85 degree F temperatures. Humidity levels in the 80s create serious air quality issues, such as mold growth. I find their temperature readings to be on the low side and the statement that our school building never exceeded outside temperatures is simply false. I was there on a day that was beautiful outside and stifling inside. And then there are the days that it rains and you can’t open the windows and all those heat-generating bodies just stew all day long. I also have anecdotal evidence that the temperatures the workers measured did not correlate with the temperatures that the teachers measured at the same time in the same location. It is understandable that there might be some variations in temperature readings but we are confident in the accuracy of our temperature data. If they want to fight about it, we are prepared to do so. But I digress; the letter continues:
In evaluating the data and the school, there are several features of the building which assist in keeping the building temperature in check. These include the low-E glass in the windows which were installed in 2003 – low-e glass reflects most of the infrared solar energy which is responsible for the radiant heating effect from direct sunlight; the use of existing blinds to further reduce the radiant heat load; and the use of the unit ventilator in each classroom, which provides outside air ventilation to improve indoor air quality, dissipates humidity generated in the room, and provides continuous air movement in the classroom.
The letter goes on to say they will continue to monitor the situation…. The paragraph above is my favorite: it basically says that you can adequately cool a building filled with 600 plus heat-generating bodies without air conditioning. And the itty bitty fan units in the ventilators have magical powers that whisk away humidity without compressor coil technology. Why bother with air conditioning at all if all you need is a 60-year-old fan? I thought when they started this assessment that they would help us fix our building not concoct a fantasy. I’ll post their table data next to our data in my next post.