Designing Flexible Schools for the Future – HVAC Edition

Jim Messner

SHP is dedicated to understanding and applying the best educational methods and providing solutions to meet our clients’ current and future educational structure needs (a little SHP marketing for everyone’s enjoyment). This is really some great stuff and I am learning a lot about 21st Century Learning and beyond, but at the same time,  this is completely changing the way we are designing new buildings. Pushing for change and adaptability definitely puts us in a favorable position, and, as weird as it may sound for an engineer to say this, I’m excited about the changes. But, what does this mean for the HVAC systems in schools?

I find that as our clients embrace these new methods they are no longer solely concerned about the efficiency and substantiality of the “bones” of their building, but instead are focusing  more now on how the building can adapt. To me, this means we need to start designing systems that can change a little or a lot without tweaking or completely gutting an entire system. This new way of thinking, coupled with new energy codes, makes me believe there will no longer be systems with large Air Handling Units that serve entire wings of classrooms. We as designers will be looking at more independent unitary systems that treat maybe one or two spaces per unit with the equipment closer to the space. With this, any changes that are made will only impact equipment near the spaces and not the main equipment that may be crammed in a space and costly to adjust. This also gives some much needed redundancy in any building; if a unitary piece of equipment goes down, it will have some impact, but not enough to send students home early or cancel classes. I am aware that this will add more pieces of machinery to maintain, but the overall cost of ownership may still be lower. Instead of having large and costly components to replace and maintain, you will have more “off the shelf” style equipment that have smaller parts that are easier to handle and replace.

There are more ideas from this school of thought as well, but it is mainly dependent on the client and their comforts. If you take one thing away from this post, it should be to just think about these ideas when you are looking into a new educational facility, and push your engineers to think outside of 20th century learning. SHP Leading Design can help prepare you for the future better then ever before.

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