Editor, The Cheshire Herald:
As Cheshire residents may be aware, the Town has been working on a school modernization plan called “Next Generation Schools,” which will require a referendum for resident approval of what is expected to be a very significant investment.
The Cheshire Energy Commission, an advisory body to the Town Council comprised of appointed volunteers, wants to ensure that planning for the new school buildings in the initial phase, and the renovation of existing school buildings in subsequent phases, takes a close look at the operational energy costs that our tax dollars will be committed to pay for in the foreseeable future. The proper way to think about a long-term investment such as this is to consider its Life Cycle Cost.
Life Cycle Cost is the total cost of ownership over the life of an asset. So, while one may think that our taxes will be less if we go with the cheapest design and the lowest bid, the opposite is more likely to be true. The Operations and Maintenance cost of a municipal building over its estimated useful life, generally 50 years, could easily total 3–4 times that of the initial construction cost. Energy consumption represents the second highest operational expense to schools, second only to salaries. Each year, a significant portion of taxpayer dollars is spent on school utility expenses such as electricity, natural gas, fuel oil, water, etc. Therefore, it is vitally important to consider these potential costs in the initial design phase, and not as an afterthought.
The Energy Commission has recommended to the BOE and the Town Council that net-zero energy construction be considered for its new school buildings. Several CT towns have built net-zero energy schools recently, which use technologies that consume between 65–80% less energy than conventionally-constructed schools, and generate the remaining energy required onsite using renewable energy sources like solar power. While these more energy-efficient technologies do increase the initial construction cost, the incremental amount can often be paid back through energy savings in a matter of just a few years, and then save the town money for 30 or more years, thereby reducing residents' property taxes.
Some energy technologies that the town should carefully consider are:
•Heating and cooling using ground source heat pumps, which are not only energy efficient, but also eliminate the use of fossil fuels and reduce our carbon footprint. We will be taking the environmentally responsible path by reducing our greenhouse gas output.
Also, in the future, there will be a trend toward increased electrification of buildings, including their heating systems. We don’t want to build something now that will be obsolete in five years.
•Consider roof-mounted solar panels and solar carports in the design phase, so they can be added later, if they are not installed during the initial construction.
•Maximize Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) by installing appropriate sensors and controls, plus include heat recovery on the ventilation systems.
•Install LED lighting and associated controls (occupancy sensors and dimming). Lighting should be accessible by a ladder and not require special equipment for maintenance.
•Take advantage of daylighting to the greatest extent possible. but not at the expense of having excessive glass surfaces that might look modern from the outside, but can cause large heat losses and difficulty cleaning.
•Install maximum R-value insulation and highly-rated windows.
•Include a Building Automation System (BAS), which is web accessible and integrated with other BAS installations in town.
•Equip exterior lighting with photocells or timers, and use step-dimming technology that keeps them from running at their full brightness at night when it is not necessary.
•Install efficient water technologies such as low flow electronic valves on toilets and sinks, and tankless hot water heaters.
•Install energy efficient equipment in kitchens and cafeterias (heating, cooling, and refrigeration).
•Integrate energy security and resiliency technologies into future school buildings.
•Assure that a Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) is implemented.
It is important that these concerns, which are both important to our quality of life and cost of living in Cheshire, be considered and implemented to the fullest extent possible in the “Next Generation School” plan. If you have questions or concerns you can reach out through the town to contact the Energy Commission. Our meetings are open to the public and the meeting minutes can be found on the town’s website by searching: energy commission.
If you would like to read more about net-zero schools, here is a link to a U.S. Dept. of Energy page: https://betterbuildingssolutioncenter.energy.gov/accelerators/zero-energy-schools