Evolution of Commissioning within a School District: Provider and Owner/Operator Perspectives

This paper discusses the evolution of commissioning within a District that is currently responsible for 35 campuses in a fast-growing suburb of Sacramento. The paper will focus on the perceived value of commissioning within the District by project managers, construction managers, A&E team members, and local contractors. A comparison of two nearly identical projects – one that benefitted (sic) from commissioning and one that did not, illustrates some of the positive impacts of commissioning.

The Folsom Cordova Unified School District is located approximately 20 miles east of Sacramento, California. The District encompasses an area northeast of downtown Sacramento and consists of 22 elementary schools, four middle schools, three high schools, two continuation high schools, adult education and other service centers. Many of the buildings were constructed more than 50 years ago. The HVAC equipment at these facilities varies from chilled/hot water loops on the older campuses to package rooftop DX units with gas fired furnaces on the newer construction. The District primarily utilizes two major controls systems across the different schools which are connected over the District network with a central EMS workstation located at the facilities maintenance office.

As most of the equipment on older campus is reaching the end its life, the District has been implementing various modernization projects that range from minor valve replacements to the complete teardown (sic) and replacement of the mechanical systems. The growth in this region has also required the construction of three new ground-up schools.

The Initial Perception
As with majority of owner/operators, the concept of commissioning was fairly new to the District. Prior to implementation of commissioning, any construction activity undertaken by the District was approached as a stand-alone project with intent to keep the initial cost low. Not much consideration was given to the long term impacts of the decisions taken during design and construction. This resulted in schools with different equipment and control standards that created problems for the maintenance staff.

The general perception about commissioning was that it added to the cost of implementing any project and duplicated activities performed by the Inspector on Record (IOR), A&E and the contactors (sic). Commissioning engineers were perceived as mere inspectors and were generally unwelcome on job sites. The general feeling was that commissioning leads to unnecessary delay by requiring certain tasks to be performed in a specific order and also requiring inspections at various stages.

New Benefits Being Realized by the District
The commissioning process has resulted in many benefits, some immediate and some long term. The outcomes of this process has been positive not only for the owners/operators but also the other stakeholders in the process. The benefits include but are not limited to:

• Satisfied building staff – Better temperature control and indoor air quality conditions leads to less discomfort situations.
• Satisfied maintenance personnel – Minimal hot/cold calls and reduced rate of equipment failure requires lesser site visits. Also, since the contractor is required to provide training on the HVAC and controls before the formal turnover of the buildings, the maintenance staff is less likely to have any surprises during maintenance.
• Increased level of confidence among school sites after building turnover – Better occupant comfort and reduced maintenance calls assures the occupants that the building will perform as intended which allows them to focus on their primary objective of  providing education.
• Smoother transition for the contractors – They are able to leave a site and focus on their next project knowing that warranty calls will be at a minimum.
• Improved energy efficiency – Ensuring that the HVAC systems are operating normally and at the highest level of efficiency.
• Fewer change orders and construction litigation –The construction manager, architects and owners have to deal with fewer change orders and there is no “fine-tuning” during the warranty period.
• Minimize dependence on contractors for ongoing maintenance – A documented sequence of operation eliminates guesswork during troubleshooting and minimizes loss of proprietary knowledge after contractor’s departure.
• ‘Lessons learned’– The detailed testing and review of the as-built system provides critique that can be used for improving future projects...

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