Cash-strapped California schools are facing a perfect storm. The student population is soaring, there is a demand for improved student performance and thousands of school buildings are in need of repair.

In order to right the ship, school districts will be investing heavily in upcoming years to build or renovate existing schools to enhance learning environments. How schools are designed will not only affect the overall quality of the buildings and operational expenses but also the health and productivity of future generations of students and teachers.

And school districts that incorporate the best in today’s design strategies can provide improved learning environments for students while also paring down electrical costs.

“Today’s educational facilities are providing better built environments for students, teachers and communities by using strategies for design of buildings that meet the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) criteria,” says Reza Zare, a partner with Alfa Tech.

Smart Business spoke with Zare about educational facilities and how they can be enhanced to facilitate learning while being more efficient from an operations perspective.

What is required for a building to meet CHPS or LEED criteria?

CHPS is a self-certified benchmarking system that defines the attributes of a high-performance school. Among other things, the criteria consist of site and materials selection, energy and water efficiency, and indoor environmental quality. CHPS is used by districts to provide high-performance strategies in the design of new buildings, campuses and major modernizations.

LEED certification provides independent, third-party verification that a building was designed and built using strategies designed to achieve high performance in five key areas of human and environmental health: energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, sustainable site development, water savings and materials selection. Certification occurs through the U.S. Green Building Council.

LEED points are awarded on a point scale and credits are weighted to reflect their potential environmental impacts. The point list is as indicated by the U.S. Green Building Council.

What types of financial benefits can be realized from meeting such standards?

The two biggest uses of energy in any building are lighting and HVAC. If you can reduce the lighting, you save a lot of energy. If you can use the natural ventilation system and use free cooling rather than mechanical cooling, you save a lot of energy.

Another financial benefit is standardization of items. Let’s take filtration. Perhaps there are 20 schools in a district and they have an average of 30-40 units per school. If you can standardize filters for all of these schools, you don’t need seven to 10 different types of filters; you can use just one to three types. The same is true with lighting, carpet and others.

What can be done to improve indoor air quality in schools?

It is important to have a good ventilation and filtration system, monitoring devices to monitor air quality and an economizer on the HVAC unit, which can save energy in buildings by using cool outside air as a means of cooling the indoor space. An economizer is particularly well suited for California schools because of the climate. With economizers, it is possible to flush the building, which means you can put the unit 100 percent on outside air and get rid of stagnant air, which can be odorous and contain harmful bacteria. This is typically done overnight, once a month or so, when temperatures are cooler.

Why is daylighting important?

Education case studies have shown that introducing daylighting into a classroom environment can increase a student’s ability to learn and retain new materials.  Students perform better with the introduction of natural light into a space, since they feel as if they are outside, and are more relaxed and focused on the materials being taught.

Daylighting supplements the artificial lighting in the space providing a reduction in the amount of energy required to light the space.  With the use of daylighting controls, consistent lighting levels can be achieved across a classroom or space by dimming lighting fixtures that are closer to the windows and increasing the lighting levels at points further from the windows.

Why are mechanical, electrical and plumbing commissioning important for school construction?

In California, a completed project is checked and approved by the Division of the State Architect (DSA). However, the DSA doesn’t check the operation of mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems as a whole to make sure the systems are installed correctly, according to approved documents, controls are correctly programmed, and balancing has been verified, etc.

A third party, or commissioning agent, will verify what the contractors have installed and the overall performance of the systems. We have noticed that contractors have a different approach when a commissioning agent is involved. They know that the third party will monitor and enforce plans and specifications, and verify contractor adherence to design and specifications. I’ve seen projects that were not commissioned, and a year later the HVAC systems aren’t working correctly because no one checked the operation and performance of the system.

Another benefit to having a commissioning agent is that they will review the testing and balancing report, as-built/record drawings, and operations and maintenance manual, including training of the school facility’s personnel. If the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems are commissioned, the District will see a benefit in saving operational and maintenance costs.

Reza Zare is a partner with Alfa Tech. Reach him at or (408) 487-1221.

Insights Technology & Engineering is brought to you by Alfa Tech

Published in Northern California

Victoria Schneider Temple knows quite a bit about adapting. The chairman and CEO of family-owned The Schneider Corp., was reading her grandmother’s minutes — and noticed how the engineering solutions company adapted to scrape through some economic downturns.

“Back in the early days, they sold fishing maps and chopped wood to keep the doors open,” she says. “Now we find other ways — technology and such — to adapt. Everything is changing so rapidly. … It basically all comes down to your ability to adapt and your willingness to accept change.”

Temple is proud to note that accepting change as a way to foster longevity is a strong point of the 50-year-old company that tallied $14.7 million in revenue last year.

Smart Business talked with Temple about how an ability to adapt is critical to company longevity.

Q. How can your outlook help a company get through financial challenges?

A. Even though we've had a contraction in our business, I have never seen it as negative. It's an opportunity for you to go back and ask questions about how you can do things better. I do think there are going to be companies that are not going to survive the trying economic times, there are some that will and then there are going to be companies that will survive, but they are going to have no clue why; they won't have adapted like they should have when the economy turned around.

Q. So the unfortunate ones may have not asked the right questions of themselves?

A. I think you have to be able to be honest with what works and what doesn't work. If you are a leader, you need to have periods of introspection about what works and what doesn't work personally and professionally. A leadership staff has to spend time introspecting and having hard conversations about what's working and what's not. I also think you have to have the courage to understand that if you have made a wrong decision, or you've made a bad choice, you just turn around and make a different choice. You can’t be afraid to make mistakes.

Q. How do you decide what does work and what doesn’t work?

A. You have to look at the finances of it. When you are putting any type of business together, whether you are investing in new technology or investing in a new person, you have to look at what you are trying to get out of that. You need to put together a business plan, you need to have milestones, you need to know if you are hitting those milestones.  If you are not hitting those milestones, you need to know why and you need to make decisions — is this worth the risk of going forward if you are not meeting your milestones? Or is it just something that you just have to decide, ‘Hey — I made a mistake, and we need to go in a different direction.’

I think a lot of it is really just about putting a plan together and sticking to the plan, and if you aren't going to stick to the plan, you have to have very clear reasons why you're not. A lot of that is just holding your leadership accountable.

Q. What goes into determining milestones?

A: In a challenging environment like this, you need to look at things quarterly. So if you are going to invest in something, like a specific piece of equipment or if you make a new hire to sell a new service, at what stage is your break-even point? At what point is it acceptable? And how fast can you become profitable in a specific area?

So when you keep longevity in the back of your mind, you know that there are hard decisions that have to be made along the way. What makes it worthwhile is knowing that the longevity of the company and the survival of the company for employees is the most important thing.

How to reach: The Schneider Corp., (317) 826-7100 or

Published in Indianapolis