Doing Your Homework To Avert A Catastrophe
Although understandable, this strategy is not without risk. Equipment that is not properly maintained runs inefficiently, increasing operating expenses. And when, not if, it fails, the expenses associated with bringing the system back online can wreak havoc with an already tight budget. Meanwhile, school districts face pressure from parents and school boards to restore a comfortable, safe, and healthy environment for the students in their care.
Few can argue the effect IAQ has on a student’s ability to learn. According to the U.S. EPA website, “Good indoor air quality (IAQ) in schools is a critical component of a healthy and comfortable learning environment. IAQ affects the health, productivity, performance, and comfort of students, teachers, and staff.” The site also points to studies that “… demonstrate that improved IAQ increases productivity and improves the performance of mental tasks, such as improved concentration and recall in both adults and children.”1
School districts with a contingency plan for temporary cooling in place better position themselves to ensure IAQ conducive to learning and good health, even in the event of chiller failure.
And any time or financial investment they make in constructing the plan is far outweighed by the ability to react quickly to a crisis that involves the shutdown of a school’s cooling system.
WHAT IS A COOLING CONTINGENCY PLAN?
A cooling contingency plan details how a school district will respond to an emergency involving a school’s cooling system before it occurs. The goal is to ensure continued operation of the school while the appropriate steps are taken to remedy the situation, which may include repair or replacement of the chiller.
The first step in developing a comprehensive contingency plan is site selection and preparation. Long before the need arises, schools should engage an engineer to help identify a location for rental equipment that will not only accommodate the chiller(s) but also provide access to required electrical and mechanical connections. Any logistical issues should be noted and addressed at this time.
By mapping the details of the installation in advance, institutions can avoid the panic and overtime costs often associated with the implementation of temporary cooling — especially in an emergency. In fact, responding to an emergency without a contingency plan in place can cost two and a half to three times as much as deploying a plan already in place when a failure occurs. Additional time and expense are tied to a number of unplanned activities and requirements, including overtime, piping requirements, and permit applications.
Without a plan, school districts also need to be concerned about equipment availability on short notice. Having a plan in place gives the school priority over other calls for equipment and helps ensure the district that equipment will be located and delivered when it is required.
During a site visit, the engineer should document the existing equipment and write specifications for the replacement equipment, including size, amp load, water flow, and cooling capacity. At this time, the engineer also determines how a temporary cooling system will tie into the entire infrastructure, considering chilled-water piping, electrical connections and, if applicable, the condenser water system. It is also important to understand the electricity needs of a temporary cooling unit. For example, air cooled chillers use twice as much power as water cooled units.
After securing the necessary permits, the engineer will oversee the installation of any piping or electrical work that the proposed temporary cooling equipment requires, adhering to existing codes and ensuring a seamless plug-and-play installation when the contingency plan is deployed.
The contingency plan also addresses commissioning and maintaining the temporary cooling system. Reduced workforces mean that many school districts cannot employ an in-house HVAC technician. To address this, the school district can rely on the equipment supplier to provide factory-trained service technicians who can commission and regularly service the temporary equipment. These same technicians should be available on a 24/7 basis to respond to school needs and keep service disruptions to a minimum.
A complete contingency plan also includes the steps and oversight to decommission a temporary cooling system, disassemble its parts, and remove the system from the site. In addition, the plan defines the required timeframe — from notification and installation to operation and removal of the system — and determines a budget. This budget tells the school district exactly what it will cost to install and operate the temporary cooling equipment, including power consumption based on the equipment that is specified, so these possible expenses can become a line item on a school district budget.
Finally, roles and responsibilities should be clearly defined to prevent confusion and duplication of efforts in an emergency situation. The plan should identify school district employees who will participate in the plan as well as key contacts at the service provider.
MORE THAN RISK MANAGEMENT
The benefits of a cooling contingency plan extend beyond avoiding the potential chaos of a system failure, and the minimized downtime and risk. The plan may, for example, help the engineer uncover opportunities to improve the reliability or efficiency of an existing cooling system, including the replacement of outdated substations, electrical panels that are not up to code, and aging equipment that operates inefficiently. Investigating these opportunities could result in significant gains in energy efficiency and performance, which might result in a healthy return on investment.
Often, temporary cooling equipment includes the most reliable and energy-efficient HVAC models on the market. By installing a temporary unit, schools can validate energy savings and system requirements before purchasing new chiller equipment. In this “try before you buy” scenario, institutions may be able to rent the exact equipment slated for purchase. In addition, once a permanent replacement is specified, having a rental chiller in place enables operations to continue undisturbed while new equipment is ordered and installed.
In effect, renting cooling equipment as part of a contingency plan provides access to the newest technologies without making a long-term financial commitment to purchase. As an operational expense, temporary cooling can:
• Bridge the gap until the economic climate stabilizes and budgeting issues can be resolved
• Provide additional cooling capacity during seasonal heat waves or natural disasters
• Offer flexibility to accommodate peaks in enrollment, particularly during summer sessions and other times when school is not typically in session
• Provide K-12 schools the capacity to provide comfortable environments during what is often the warmest time of the year
Contingency plans for temporary cooling can also prove helpful when taking equipment offline for scheduled maintenance. Temporary equipment enables technicians to perform maintenance tasks, providing peace of mind that maintenance can be done thoroughly and correctly while continuing to meet cooling needs.
IN SEARCH OF A SUPPLIER
To develop and implement contingency plans, schools should consider a supplier that demonstrates expertise, availability, and flexibility. The supplier should have in-depth knowledge of temporary equipment and installations and experience in application engineering, project management, and service. In many cases, an OEM offers many of these advantages, especially in terms of equipment expertise and availability, and servicing experience, whether it is a short-term solution or one that requires a complete replacement. Selecting a partner with a range of capabilities can ensure a contingency plan will be comprehensive. It should include a needs assessment, site preparation, installation, setup, commissioning, controls integration, and ongoing maintenance of rented HVAC equipment.
When there’s a need for temporary cooling, schools cannot afford to be delayed by long delivery times, so it is important to work with a supplier that has a sufficiently large footprint, with inventory and quick delivery options that ensure an installation typically within 24 to 36 hours. A local presence is also important, so that service is available 24/7 to ensure the efficient, uninterrupted operation of the cooling equipment.
Institutions also should select a rental partner that is flexible enough to consider various financial arrangements. Even if cashflow is limited or there is not budget for a major capital expenditure, customized rental agreements, including rent-to-own programs, can be drafted to meet specific needs.
With the right partners, a contingency plan can deliver a variety of benefits to a school district, including peace of mind, minimized risk, guaranteed uptime, increased efficiency, and preservation of capital.ES