A Look at Air Quality and Energy Issues...  
A Nebraska High School Goes Under the Microscope

 In May, officials at Pius X Central High School in Lincoln got a generally good-to-excellent report card on their building and its air quality thanks to a federal effort targeted to locating pollution problems and energy efficiency opportunities in schools.

The effort brought together administrators, engineers and architects, maintenance staff, teachers, students and others, and went further than the federal model effort, Tools for Schools , on which it was patterned.

Looking for a Team
One of the first uses of Tools for Schools materials in Nebraska didn't just happen. First, the regional office the Environmental Protection Agency wanted a guinea pig to test integrating energy efficiency improvements and indoor air quality issues in the state - to get the ball rolling, if you will. The Nebraska Energy Office stepped up for the task.

As an inducement, the federal agency offered a small grant and access to an air quality expert, Bruce Snead, from Kansas State University. Finding other team members, including a school, was the next task. Technical partners also included Lincoln Electric System, Peoples Natural Gas, Nebraska Departments of Health and Human Services and Environmental Quality and the Lincoln/Lancaster County Health Department.

Pius X High School Lincoln, Nebraska

The professional team was in place, but one key player -- a school -- was missing. The Energy Office thought the best candidate would be a private school with a large facility located near Lincoln. That's when Father Michael Morin of Pius got a call.

Father Morin expressed an interest and, when EPA reviewed the team and the project specifics, the project got a go-ahead.

At the Tool Team's first meeting, an idea surfaced that was not a part of the Tools for Schools model: a survey of teachers and staff to get their thoughts about energy issues such as heating and cooling as well as the air quality where they study and work. Within a month, the results from the questionnaires were in hand and the school's building plans had been reviewed.

Over the next two months, professionals conducted on-site reviews of the building and its various systems. They collected information on the building envelope, heating, cooling, lighting and ventilation as well as energy using equipment such as computers and motors.

Getting the Results
An early review of the data confirmed the school was a miser when it came to using energy and only minor adjustments needed to be made in this area. Based on the study, Pius X Central High School energy use is 40 percent below the national average for facilities of its size and type.

The Team ranked the report findings according to importance, making it easier for building officials to prioritize any needed changes. Air quality issues generally focused on lowering air intakes so existing ventilation systems could function properly and implementing dust collection in the wood shop. Among the recommendations to reduce energy use included converting exit light fixtures to ones with light emitting diodes, turning off furnace pilot lights in little-used facilities such as stadiums and locker rooms, sealing abandoned roof exhaust fan openings and converting fluorescent fixtures to more efficient models using T-8 lamps and electronic ballasts. The Team estimated the total cost of the improvements at $55,200. The improvements that focused on reducing energy use were estimated to save $4,000 a year. The cost of some of the recommended improvements could be recovered in as little as four months, others might take 16 years.

The Team also recommended such changes as turning off computers when the building was unoccupied and installing motion-detecting light switches in locker rooms, restrooms and storage areas.

Try Tools in Your School
An estimated one-quarter of America's population spend their days in elementary and secondary schools. A recent study, Condition of America's Schools by the Government Accounting Office, indicated that up to half of the 115,000 schools have at least one environmental problem that affects indoor air quality.

Students tend to be at greater risk because of the hours spent in schools and because they are more susceptible to pollution. Health and comfort are also factors that contribute to learning and productivity in the classroom.

The Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools Kit shows schools how to carry out a practical plan of action to improve indoor air problems, at little or no cost, using straightforward activities and in-house staff. Free materials can be downloaded or ordered at Environmental Protection Agency's web site at www.epa.gov/iaq/schools/tools4s2.html The Kit includes a coordinator's guide and forms, nine different indoor air quality checklists and problem solving materials. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools is co-sponsored by the National PTA, National Education Association, Council for American Private Education, Association of School Business Officials, American Federation of Teachers and the American Lung Association. s

For more information
A complete copy of the Tools for Schools report, including detailed specifics about recommended improvements, can be found at the Energy Office's web site at www.nol.org/home/NEO/reports/toolsforschools.htm

Return to the September 2001 Newsletter