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Smart Practices: Facilities

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Smart practices related to the construction and maintenance of facilities were the most frequently cited areas for potential cost savings by school districts.

The facilities category includes all practices related to the management or operation of school district facilities, including building design, construction, maintenance and energy conservation. In the 2008-09 school year, Texas school districts spent $4.3 billion on plant maintenance and operations, accounting for 10.7 percent of all operating expenditures.

Building Design

Many fast-growing districts use architectural prototypes to save money on building design fees, which can account for up to 6 percent of school construction costs. A district can save $150,000 to $300,000 on a typical school building. The following districts reported using architectural prototypes, standard fixtures and other efficient facility design practices.

District County Enrollment
Smart Practice Savings
Alief Harris 45,100 Uses standard architectural plans when constructing buildings. $375,000 for each new building
Beaumont Jefferson 19,300 The district, with ten schools under construction, paid for one architectural prototype that was modified for the remaining nine schools. $150,000 per building
Cypress-Fairbanks Harris 100,500 Uses architectural prototypes based on optimal instructional designs.
$150,000 per building
Dallas Dallas 157,200 Recently built two middle schools using nearly identical architectural plans. By standardizing every possible aspect of school design, the district saved two months’ design time and countless hours in future maintenance. $190,000
El Paso El Paso 62,100 Adapts existing architectural plans to new projects when possible to expedite project delivery and realize savings. About $75,000 for construction projects ranging from $13 million to $24 million
Kelton Wheeler 150 The district, needing a new activity center to accommodate student growth and withstand tornados, built a steel-reinforced dome facility that has slashed its energy costs. Approximately $7,200 per year.
Lubbock-Cooper Lubbock 3,500 The district uses architectural prototypes for the majority of its new facilities. The district also awards bids to construction firms bidding as construction managers at-risk. This arrangement guarantees that the firm will complete the project within a guaranteed maximum price. Savings of $1.4 million on construction of three elementary schools. Use of  construction manager at-risk saved  $8 million in construction of  new middle school.
McKinney Collin 23,200 At least nine new schools built using architectural prototypes. The district uses two architectural firms, both offering prototype designs. $150,000 per building
Mission Hidalgo 15,400 Used a standard architectural prototype in designing an elementary and a middle school. $300,000 per project
Round Rock Williamson 41,500 Used the same architectural design for two new elementary schools. $100,000 per building

Facilities and Construction

Many districts have discovered innovative ways to avoid or reduce construction costs, such as acting as their own general contractors. Some districts find it more cost-effective to repurpose buildings rather than to construct them, while others have consolidated their facilities to generate savings.

District County Enrollment
Smart Practice Savings
Beaumont Jefferson 19,300 Plans to consolidate eight existing campuses into four. $1 million annually
Coppell Dallas 10,000 Repurposed an elementary school to avoid building a new high school facility. $700,000 annually
Poth Wilson 800 In the past three years, the district constructed three new buildings, converted an old band hall into classrooms and air-conditioned the high school gym. The district acted as its own general contractor on these projects, avoiding the fee for this function, typically 15 to 20 percent of project cost. $490,000
San Angelo Tom Green 14,500 Created a process to blend construction and renovation projects; structured a bidding process to allow for adequate participation by local vendors and subcontractors. Seven projects completed for $2 million below projected costs
Spring Branch Harris 32,300 Rents space for one of its pre-kindergarten centers from a nonprofit organization for $30,000 annually, allowing the district to avoid $4.3 million in land and construction costs. Also saved money by using an old school building as a transition campus during the construction of a new school building. Rent arrangement saves $800,000 annually; transitional campus approach saved $7 million

Shared Facilities

Sharing facilities with other districts or local governments is another smart practice. Several districts reported sharing recreational facilities, disaster recovery sites, office space and other facilities for a substantial savings.

District County Enrollment
Smart Practice Savings
Alpine Brewster 1,100 Shares facilities with both the 588 Purchasing Co-op and a field office of the Region 18 Education Service Center (ESC). The 588 Co-op rents office space in the district’s administration building, and ESC 18 rents office space in a district field office. The district collects $21,600 annually in rent and uses it for building maintenance and operation costs
Cedar Hill Dallas 8,100 Worked with the city of Cedar Hill to build a $27.5 million government center that houses district and city administrative offices as well as the police department.
About $1 million in construction costs as well as $50,000 annually in operating costs
El Paso El Paso 62,100 Maintains several agreements with the city of El Paso for use of city baseball and softball fields and swimming pools. The district, in turn, allows use of school playgrounds and facilities by various city programs and the community at large. Annual facilities maintenance spending is $5.5 million less than the average of similar districts
Friendswood Galveston 6,000 The City of Friendswood and the district partnered to share land for a park and new middle school. Students can use park and athletic facilities during the school day, while allowing public access to the facilities outside of school hours. The city waived permit and construction fees as part of agreement.
$300,000 from waived municipal fees, plus additional savings related to lower land acquisition costs.
Post Garza 900 Uses the city of Post’s baseball and softball fields during sports seasons. The school district maintains the fields during the season but is not responsible for upkeep during the off season, thus saving on equipment and staff costs. Annual facilities maintenance costs are about $239,000 less than the average of similar districts


School districts are finding cost-efficient ways to keep their school buildings, grounds and other facilities clean and safe through preventive maintenance, better use of technology and the streamlining or consolidation of custodial staff.

District County Enrollment
Smart Practice Savings
Cedar Hill Dallas 8,100 Reduced its maintenance schedule in half by cleaning buildings every other day instead of every day, allowing the district to cut 15 custodial positions. $300,000
Coppell Dallas 10,000 Uses scheduling and tracking software to increase the productivity of maintenance personnel and eliminate the need for more employees. $40,000 annually
El Paso El Paso 62,100 Created a second shift of maintenance workers working four 10-hour days weekly on repair work beyond school-occupied hours. Uses a computerized work-order system to track maintenance requests. Consolidated custodial services and schedules only necessary personnel, allowing it to reduce some 12-month maintenance positions to nine-month positions. Annual savings of $200,000 due to work-order system; $300,000 annually from consolidation
Lamar Fort Bend 22,900 Contracts with the Region 4 Education Service Center to manage its Maintenance and Operations Department. Region 4 has created a preventative maintenance team, modified workflows to absorb additional square footage without adding personnel, reduced the energy budget and provided employee training at no additional cost. $1,600,000
Mesquite Dallas 36,900 Placed recycling bins in all 1,300 classrooms as well as administrative buildings and athletic stadiums, allowing the district to eliminate half of its waste pickups. Saved $57,000 in disposal costs in 2009 and $85,000 in 2010; expects savings to reach $100,000 in 2011
Mission Hidalgo 15,400 Uses an outside contract for monthly HVAC filter changes; uses a computerized work-order system to track maintenance projects. Annual spending on maintenance is $288,000 less than the average of similar districts
Pettus Bee 400 Increased efficiency of its maintenance function by reducing the number of central staff positions and hiring (or training) maintenance staff to work on HVAC, electrical and plumbing systems. $10,000 annually
Richardson Dallas 34,300 Adapted work crew schedules to optimize work flow, allowing fewer staff to serve more facilities. Issues hand-held devices to maintenance staff that link directly to a central system that prioritizes and tracks work orders, eliminating the need for large inventories of replacement parts because the system can generate and fill purchase orders quickly. $500,000 annually
Sam Rayburn Fannin 450 The district’s metal fabrication shop produces fixtures and equipment such security fences, saving money that otherwise would be spent on external contractors. Shop recently built a security fence that saved district an estimated $10,000
Spring Branch Harris 32,300 Saved money on repairs and replacement parts by standardizing fixtures and equipment such as lighting, ice machines, water fountains, laundry equipment, walkways and ramps. The district also has a preventive maintenance program that identifies cost-saving measures such as winterizing plumbing lines and identifying leaks in plumbing pipes. Annual spending on facilities maintenance is $4.3 million less than the average for similar districts

Energy and Water Conservation

Utilities account for a large portion of school district operating costs. The costs of heating and cooling and lighting can be contained through technologies such as energy-efficient lighting, programmable thermostats, “virtual” servers and energy management software.

District County Enrollment
Smart Practice Savings
Alief Harris 45,100 Removed many old and inefficient lighting systems, replacing them with more energy-efficient units. Is installing new roofing systems that have better insulation and reflective surfaces. Earned one-time rebates through a program administered by the local electric provider to improve energy efficiency in schools. Uses contracts with energy aggregators for additional savings. $185,000 annually
Aubrey Denton 1,700 Adopted a four-day work week during summer to reduce electricity spending. Closes schools on weekends to reduce electricity consumption. Has reduced consumption by about 25 kilowatt hours per month. $2,500 annually
Blackwell Coke 150 Installed a wind turbine to provide electricity. $3,000 per month on electricity costs
Booker Lipscomb 400 Installed new HVAC equipment that uses programmable thermostats. Expects 10 percent energy savings
Cedar Hill Dallas 8,100 Negotiated with utility to cut rate by 20 percent. Installed programmable thermostats and energy-efficient lighting in gyms. Lower utility rate saves district $400,000 annually; programmable thermostats save an estimated $225,000 each year; energy-efficient gym lighting saves $45,000 annually
Channing Hartley 150 In 2000, district buildings were retrofitted with energy-efficient systems and connected to a central control panel. Annual spending on utilities is $24,000 less than the average of similar districts
Coppell Dallas 10,000 Implemented districtwide energy management system; installed energy-efficient equipment and automatic light sensors. Installed energy-saving bulbs, ballasts and timers for the HVAC system, reducing annual electricity use by more than 10 percent. $200,000 annually
Dallas Dallas 157,100 Contracts with a utility billing auditor to review utility bills for errors and to recover any overcharges from electricity providers. HVAC systems set at 69-71 degrees in heating season and 75-78 degrees in cooling season; shuts these systems down one hour prior to the end of the school or work day. Has installed a geothermal heat pump system that uses less energy than a conventional HVAC system. $6.7 million annually
Denver City Yoakum 1,500 Replaced all 137 HVAC units with more energy-efficient equipment. Annual spending on utilities is $84,000 less than the average of similar districts
Dumas Moore 4,300 HVAC is on a central control system. District pays a stipend to a staff member to act as energy manager, tracking the costs of utilities and sending out reminders to shut off equipment during school breaks. $200,000 annually
El Paso El Paso 62,100 Has remote power management on 1,100 workstations, automatically shutting them down at night and on weekends. Laptops default to sleep mode after 30 minutes of inactivity. Uses 18 “virtual” servers, which allow the consolidation of multiple servers on one machine and reduce electricity consumption. Remote power management saves more than $51,000 annually; laptop sleep mode saves $28,000 annually; virtual servers save $17,000 annually
Era Cooke 450 Uses basic steps such as turning off lights and air conditioners and replacing outdated lighting with more efficient units. Under the state’s Optional Flexible Year Program, students can be dismissed from school 10 days before the end of the actual school year if they pass their classes and state tests, allowing the district to close some classrooms and other facilities a few days early each year. $4,000
Frenship Lubbock 7,000 Energy management system monitors electric use in all district buildings, allowing district to track energy consumption trends and adjust usage when necessary. Annual spending on utilities is $1.4 million less than the average similiar districts.
Friendswood Galveston 6,000 In 2005, began upgrading air conditioning and heating systems as well as lighting, plumbing and kitchens in schools with outdated infrastructure. $150,000 anually
Frisco Collin 30,600 Some schools use geothermal ground-source heat pumps in lieu of conventional HVAC systems. District uses an energy recovery ventilation system to reduce the amount of energy needed to heat or cool incoming air. District uses laminated roofing materials to reduce heat conducted into buildings and has installed motion sensors to turn off lights in unoccupied rooms. A centralized irrigation control system monitors water use. In 2009, spent about $770,000 less on electricity and natural gas at schools with geothermal ground-source heat pumps than it would have with conventional HVAC systems.
Jim Hogg Jim Hogg 1,100 All campuses connected to a centralized HVAC system that operates at predetermined times. $180,000 annually
Keller Tarrant 30,200 Has implemented a four-day work week and a “dark week” during summer to reduce utility expenditures. $744,000 annually
Klondike Dawson 200 Has installed energy-efficient lighting and HVAC units are timer-controlled. Annual spending on utilities is $22,000 less than the average of similar districts
Mesquite Dallas 36,900 A centrally controlled energy management system for HVAC is in use in 42 of 47 schools. Programmable networked thermostats installed in all portable classrooms. All lighting equipped with efficient fluorescent bulbs. Electric booster water heaters have been replaced with natural gas units.
$688,000 annually for the energy management system; $141,000 a year from water heater replacements; plus $369,000 in incentive reimbursements from the local energy provider.
Mission Hidalgo 15,450 Has installed window screens and energy-efficient lighting; joined Region One electric purchasing consortium; and registered with utility to receive rebates for efficiency upgrades. $21,000 annually plus $30,000 in rebates
Northside Bexar 88,200 Energy management control system controls all lighting, heating and air-conditioning. Computers and monitors configured to turn off automatically after a period of inactivity. Restrooms retrofitted with low-flow toilets.
$2.9 million annually
Olton Lamb 750 Installed computer-controlled thermostats in all schools capable of turning electricity off at preprogrammed times. Annual spending on utilities is $28,000 less than the average for similar districts
Palacios Matagorda 1,500 Member of an electrical co-op, Energy for Schools Pool 19. Annual spending on utilities is $328,000 less than average of similiar districts.
Pettus Bee 400 In 2007, district conducted a thorough energy efficiency upgrade of lighting and HVAC systems; removed window air conditioners and glass walls to seal and insulate them. No savings estimate, but annual spending on utilities is $107,000 less than the average of similar districts
Post Garza 850 Has installed an energy management system for HVAC; all new units controlled from a central location. Annual spending on utilities is $71,000 less than the average of similar districts
Richardson Dallas 34,300 Has upgraded all district facilities with energy-efficient windows, roofs, lighting, appliances and HVAC systems. Installed a central HVAC control system and separated its HVAC systems into zones to better control ambient air temperatures. The district also fuels its vehicles with propane instead of gasoline for a 30 percent savings, and buys propane direct and in bulk. $2.9 million annually
Sam Rayburn Fannin 450 Built its own water well to reduce the cost of watering its football fields. $6,000 annually
Sands Dawson 250 A member of Energy for Schools, an electric utility aggregator that negotiates retail electricity purchases by estimating the district’s annual electricity usage and finding providers in the competitive electricity market. $8,500 annually
Shamrock Wheeler 350 Replaced all lighting systems with energy-efficient lights and is replacing HVAC equipment in its buildings. Replaced inefficient ovens in cafeterias and added energy-saving convection ovens Annual spending on utilities is $36,000 less than the average of similiar districts
Spring Branch Harris 32,300 Negotiates with energy companies to obtain reduced prices for its energy needs. Recently entered into a contract negotiated before the expiration of the previous one to earn an early-signing discount. The district’s energy manager implements efficiency and conservation strategies to lower energy consumption. $2 million annually

Architectural Prototypes

To make their building programs as cost-effective as possible, some fast-growing districts use architectural prototypes – floor plans based on optimal instructional designs.

These designs can be used on multiple projects, saving time and money on design work and reducing architectural fees by an amount equivalent to 1 to 2 percent of total construction costs.

Texas school districts spent nearly $8.5 billion on facilities acquisition and construction in 2009. Greater use of architectural prototypes could cut some of these costs.

Architectural fees usually account for 6 percent of total construction costs – nearly $510 million in 2009. Since prototypes generally entail fees of 4 to 5 percent, districts might have saved from $85 million to $170 million, assuming no architectural prototypes were used that year.

Sources: Texas Education Agency, Dallas Public Education Advocates, Texas Association of School Business Officials, Elgin Independent School District, Leander Independent School District, Round Rock Independent School District and Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District.

SECO Programs for School Districts

The Comptroller’s State Energy Conservation Office (SECO) provides technical assistance, grant and loan programs that can benefit school districts.

Through its Energy Efficiency Partnership program, SECO offers on-site technical assistance to public schools, hospitals, colleges and universities, including energy audits, recommendations for retrofits and other conservation projects, on-site training for building operators and maintenance staff and assistance with energy policies.

SECO’s LoanSTAR revolving loan program, the largest of its type in the U.S., provides low-interest loans for energy-efficient retrofits to public buildings. Its school district energy efficiency grant program provides grants of up to $35,000 for on-site renewable energy generation, advanced heating and air-conditioning systems, electric utility metering technology, window film and other conservation projects.

SECO estimates that their programs can result in a 20 percent energy savings for each facility that undergoes a retrofit.

Source: Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts State Energy Conservation Office.