Construction Management Students Aim to Make Tobin School More Green

April 5, 2016

Construction Management Students Aim to Make Tobin School More Green

Construction Management Students Aim to Make Tobin School More Green

By Greg Abazorius

With a plan for modern, energy-efficient upgrades, a group from Wentworth Institute of Technology is looking to shed some light on a local elementary school as part of a green initiative.

Leopard Lighting, consisting of Wentworth construction management students Kyle Gillis, ’18; Carlos Vega, ’17; Shawn Cody, ’17; Mathew McKinnon, ’16; Christian Nielson, ’16; and Ryan Mack, ’18; submitted a proposal to the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) as part of the Green Energy Challenge, which asks teams to solve energy-related construction management issues. The Wentworth group is focusing on the Maurice J. Tobin School in the Mission Hill neighborhood of Boston.

“The Green Energy Challenge and NECA Student chapter allow us to expose ourselves to the electrical sub-contractor's field and broaden our knowledge of the construction industry,” says Gillis.

Assistant Professor Bill Kearney, who serves as the team’s faculty advisor, explains that the 1950s-era school last underwent serious renovations in the 1980s, and that most of the building uses older fluorescent bulbs and non-programmable thermostats, among other outdated items.

“Phoebe Beierle [sustainability manager for Boston Public Schools] recommended a few schools in the area that could really benefit from a project like this one,” says Kearney. “We looked into the scope of the Tobin and felt like it was a good choice.”

The Tobin currently accommodates 450 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The lobby and auditorium were recently updated with new lighting, but the remaining areas of the school—including classrooms and the cafeteria—have not been updated in nearly 30 years.

During a preliminary walkthrough and analysis with NECA contractors and Boston Public School representatives, the group took note of the existing electrical system and measured areas with potential for LED lights and a solar power system.

“We’re looking at 480 bulbs in 27 classrooms that would have to be replaced,” says Kearney. “But we’re also looking at the overall energy efficiency in the school and what is the biggest consumer of energy.”

Leopard Lighting determined that the heating system would serve as one focus. Two boilers currently control the centralized heating system, and many thermostats are located near doorways and windows, leading to inaccurate temperature readings. The group is looking into moving the thermostats and replacing them with programmable models.

The group also decided to replace the fluorescent fixtures with more energy-efficient LED fixtures and bulbs. Per Green Energy contest rules, the team must retrofit two of the classrooms with two different designs. While both rooms will receive LED lighting, the second room will also contain a wireless daylight sensor, dimming the lights when natural sunlight is detected in the room.

“In our final report, we are recommending the lighting change to the LED bulbs, and the dimming and occupancy controls,” Kearney says. “That will save the school about 75 percent of their energy costs due to lighting. With those changes, the initial cost would be just over $100,000, but the payback would occur in less than seven years.”

Solar energy is an additional part of the equation and would be used as a teaching tool at the Tobin. Leopard Lighting proposes a system that would be mounted at the school and controlled from a panel that students could operate. Students would have the chance to change the direction and angle of the device according to the sun’s location, ensuring optimal energy collection.

A vendor has proposed a full solar photovoltaic panel system that would effectively lease their roof and provide an estimated 30 percent reduction in the cost of the Tobin’s electricity.

The school is heated by steam, and the Wentworth students are exploring the idea of creating a co-generation system that would allow the steam pipes to continue to heat the school, but also harness electricity. Cost, however, could be a deterrent for that idea.

More than 20 plans from various colleges have been submitted to the NECA contest. A jury of contractors is currently judging the proposals, and the top three student teams will be invited to the Boston NECA convention in October to make oral presentations.

Boston Public Schools (BPS) has received Leopard Lighting’s proposal and is interested in having the team present to the BPS energy subset.

As construction management majors, the Wentworth team is confident that they can create an extremely efficient schedule based on their built-in knowledge of mobilization, inspections, and final installation.

“I think it’s a great learning experience for Wentworth students, and it will hopefully lead to better things for the students of Tobin,” Kearney says. “We’re very excited to have the opportunity.”

The 2016 Green Energy Challenge is sponsored by Electri and the NECA.

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