When the school year kicks off each year in late summer, it’s not unusual for temperatures in many parts of the country to soar into the 90s, which can make it difficult for students to concentrate and be productive.

“We knew a comfortable learning environment would support the success of our faculty and students,” said Donna Whitley-Smith, superintendent of Page County Public Schools (Luray, VA). “We needed a solution at a time when funds were limited.”

For decades, some second-and third-floor classrooms within the district, which sit in the shadow of Shenandoah National Park, went un-conditioned. And like many educational institutions whose budgets are stretched, Page County Public Schools struggled to fund the much-needed upgrades. That changed in June of 2016 with the completion of a project made possible through an innovative financing strategy designed by Johnson Controls.

The local Johnson Controls team developed a plan to fund the improvements through an energy savings performance contract. Under the contract, Johnson Controls guaranteed that, by making a series of upgrades to lighting and building controls across the district, Page County Public Schools would generate enough operational and utility savings to pay for upgrades and offset the cost of air conditioning the un-cooled classrooms.

“The guaranteed savings is a great way to fund facility improvements, especially when budgets are tight,” said Whit Blake, Johnson Controls account executive. “In many cases, it’s the only way these kinds of projects can get done.”

According to Johnson Controls, the $7.5M project is guaranteed to save Page County Public Schools $10.2 million over 15 years. The project included a full LED lighting retrofit across eight district schools with a guarantee to save the district $193,000 annually. A Metasys® BAS installed to control and monitor critical energy systems is predicted to save the district $149,585 annually.

The retrofit project also included new HVAC systems to condition the air in previously un-cooled classrooms and replacement of outdated boiler and rooftop units.

With Metasys installed across the district, the facilities staff now has 24/7 access to schedules, trending data, and alarms to help them identify issues and prioritize responses. Officials said the system also makes it easier for the team to measure the impact of their actions and provide reports to ensure that goals are being met and results are delivered.

The addition of Metasys also gives Page County Public Schools its first opportunity to take advantage of demand response energy management programs to generate even greater savings.

“When you participate in a demand response energy management program, the local utility will pay you for curtailing energy use during time of peak demand or high electricity prices,” said Blake. “Metasys has built-in programming that allows facility managers to do that with the push of a button.”

So far, the combined improvements are delivering energy and operational savings beyond what was guaranteed.

“Our performance contract with Johnson Controls has been a ‘win-win,’” said Whitley-Smith. “We upgraded our facilities and protected our future budget through long-term energy savings.”

In addition to helping Page County Public Schools stretch taxpayer dollars and create more comfortable learning environments, the project itself has created a new learning opportunity.

Through a web-based energy dashboard, students, teachers, and Luray residents can access real-time information about the energy use and energy savings across the district, and the environmental impact on their community.