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Columbia Missourian

School district promotes energy efficiency in new administration building

By Sky Chadde
November 19, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST
The consolidation of Columbia Public Schools’ three administrative locations into one central building has increased efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Green features have been added.

COLUMBIA — Five years ago, when Columbia Public Schools' Technology Services was located in a rented building on Vandiver Drive, four five-ton air-conditioning units and one seven-ton ceiling fan there cooled the district’s data center. The collection of servers connects all schools and holds the district’s digital information.

All in all, 27 tons of cooling were devoted to keeping the temperature of the servers about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, at the new Neil C. Aslin District Administration Building on Worley Street, 10 tons of air-conditioning units keep the temperature of two parallel rows of servers at 72 degrees.

“Chillers,” as Aaron Heath, leader of the server team at Technology Services, calls them, force the hot air produced by the servers into the aisle between the two rows. These chillers then pull out that hot air and cool it down, keeping the servers’ temperatures low at a reduced cost.

This is known as hot-aisle containment. It’s one of several ways the district has become more efficient with the centralization of its administration services. With the energy-efficient components at its new building, the district will save an estimated $70,000 per year on utility payments, according to data provided by Chief Financial Officer Linda Quinley.

District spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said that saved money will go back into the operating budget.

Going green

Baumstark said a commitment to green products is now the expectation at the district. Battle High School, which will open in August 2013, was also built with this commitment in mind.

In the long run, Baumstark said, these green products will pay for themselves. They are also energy-efficient.

For example, the hot air created from the servers of the data center is captured and used to heat the rest of the 52,000 square-foot building, said David Kessler, who leads the Technology Services network team.

"It’s a model of efficiency," he said.

The building also has reflective roofing that reduces the amount of energy required to cool a space.

Office lights in the building have occupancy sensors that stay on when someone is in the room; they turn off after a set amount of time, usually 15 minutes, of not detecting any movement. These light sensors help save energy, which in turn reduces the school district’s energy bill.

Thermal windows boost the building’s insulation and will help keep heating costs low.

Also, the building utilizes a technique called daylight harvesting. When enough light flows in from the sun, a room’s electric lighting dims, saving dollars otherwise spent on energy.

A ground-source heating and cooling system pumps heat into the interior of the building during the winter and pumps it out during the summer.

The new administration building is part of a larger, greener picture in Columbia. In 2008, Grant Elementary School opened its Eco Schoolhouse, a project intended to help teach students about their role in the environment.

That same year, the Wabash Station bus depot renovation won certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, which recognizes building owners’ commitment to green construction.

In January of this year, Boone Hospital Center’s new patient tower received the same recognition for its design.

Human efficiency

The district is also attempting to go paperless. However, this is more an ideal than an actual goal, Baumstark said. The district will probably never be 100 percent paperless, but it has begun to scan paper records into a digital format and many day-to-day operations are performed online now.

In the Human Resources Department, all new hires fill out digital paperwork. The department has also eliminated three large file cabinets' worth of paper records.

The Business Services Department delivers all checks electronically now. It scans and stores all contracts, invoices and employee payroll and benefits information digitally.

That department is also a good example of how the district is more efficient since it consolidated its administrative services into one location. Foot traffic to the department has increased since the move from the Bernadette building, Quinley said.

"For me personally," she said, "it means fewer times in and out of the car each day driving to Worley or Vandiver to meet with other district staff."

Other staff members in the district have seen the benefits of a central location.

Chris Diggs,  director of Technology Services, said her department was too spread out at the Vandiver location. Now, with a new office housed in the old administration building’s basement, her group functions more as a unit.

That efficiency is important when dealing with all things technology-related, including the help desk, all state reporting of student information, programming and web development. Technology Services also runs the servers and infrastructure to deliver technology to students.

"We support everything from the back end to the front end and everything in between," Diggs said.

Paying for the addition

Annually, the school district paid almost $500,000 in rent to keep staff at the Bernadette and Vandiver locations. To fund the construction of the addition, the district took out a loan with Columbia's UMB Bank.

Essentially, the district will be making a mortgage payment of the same amount instead of paying rent, Quinley said. The addition cost the district $7.8 million. It should own the building in about 26 years.

The old administration building on Worley Street was 12,000 square feet. With the 40,000-square-foot addition, that brings the total area to 52,000 square feet. The square footage of the two leased locations combined was 51,624 square feet.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.