Energy Services Today, K-12 Edition

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elcome to Energy Services Today K-12 Edition. This complimentary edition is a consolidated version of our full-length issue of Energy Services Today Winter 20/21, which was published in December 2020.

This issue features an inspiring story from the Cartwright School District in Phoenix, Arizona. Dr. LeAnn Aguilar-Lawlor, Cartwright’s Superintendent, took decisive action after hearing the needs of her community. Amidst a global pandemic, Dr. Aguilar-Lawlor and her leadership team developed and executed a $40 million Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC). This project will transform their district by providing the necessary equipment to combat COVID-19 and create a long-term sustainable, healthy, and efficient environment for their students.

4 Cartwright School District Kicks-Off $40 Million ESPC

Following, our feature article, is a piece originally published by Chalkbeat, illustrating how the pandemic has brought attention to the dire need for better infrastructure in American school buildings. Author, Matt Barnum, portrays the perpetuating factor that has been the Achilles heel to the K-12 environment; “school districts have been spending less on their facilities since the last recession.” We felt republishing this piece was essential. You have probably read the recent announcement of details into President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, allotting $130 billion towards enabling K-12 schools to open safely. A key opportunity for the K-12 community is the potential to improve ventilation with stimulus funds. Through our conversations with superintendents across the U.S., we often hear that they are unfamiliar with utilizing ESPCs as a way to solve the backlog of deferred maintenance, improve building energy efficiency and reduce operating costs—without increasing taxes. We also hear the misconception that ESPCs “are too good to be true.” At Energy Services Today, we aim to provide full transparency; thus, we speak directly to the source to learn the ins and outs of these projects. We discuss how they got the project off the ground and the barriers they overcame. For those that are new to our publication, Energy Services Today was created to tell the story of the energy services industry through the voices of those pushing the industry forward. Content includes Energy Savings Performance Contracting, Public-Private Partnerships, and Energy Efficiency as a Service. We applaud all of the admirable work you and your team put into navigating the turbulence of 2020. As you look at the landscape of 2021 and the years to follow, we hope our publication provides guidance and a resource during your journey to healthy school buildings.

9 The pandemic is spotlighting longstanding issues with America’s school buildings Publisher Energy Services Media LLC Editor-in-Chief Julie Chesna Contributing Writers Matt Barnum, Chalkbeat Photographers Brad Olson Design & Printing Partner Printco Graphics Omaha, Nebraska

Julie Chesna, Editor-in-Chief

Energy Services Today is published by Energy Services Media. Energy Services Media is an independent integrated media platform reporting on the energy services industry. The readers of Energy Services Today range from industry leaders and experts to those who may just be learning about the industry for the first time. Our audience includes key decision-makers of K-12 Schools, Universities & Colleges, Hospitals, State and Local Governments, and Federal Agencies.

To read the full-length publication of Energy Services Today Winter 20/21 issue, visit https:// The opinions and statements made in advertising copy are those of the advertiser and do not necessarily constitute endorsement by the publisher. All submissions become the property of the publisher. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be produced in print or digital form without express written consent by editor.




KICK-OFFS $40 MILLION ESPC Cartwright Elementary School District (SD) No. 83 is located in Maricopa County, Phoenix, Arizona. The district serves the Maryvale community, providing a first-class education for 21 schools and roughly 16,000 students.


In March of 2019, Cartwright SD appointed its first female and Latina superintendent, Dr. LeeAnn Aguilar-Lawlor. Dr. Aguilar-Lawlor is an experienced educator, having served in three districts as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services at Cartwright. She brings 31 years of educational experience to her new role. Before her education career, she served in the United States Air Force Reserves, and was activated during Operation Desert Storm to serve overseas as a medical specialist. Since her appointment, the warmth, trust, and transparency that characterize her work style have spread throughout the district. From day one, Dr. Aguilar-Lawlor voiced and embraced Cartwright’s motto: One Team, Una Familia (One Family). When the pandemic hit, the school district reacted by putting the necessary tools in place to maintain the same excellence of teaching in a remote environment. They also recognized their students’ other needs and doubled down on efforts to create a healthy and sustainable environment in which they could flourish. During a national pandemic, Dr. Aguilar-Lawlor and her leadership team developed and, with Governing Board approval, executed a $40 Million Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC).



THE SCHOOL BUILDINGS’ HEALTH Cartwright Elementary School District No. 83 dates back to 1884, making it one of the oldest school districts in Maricopa County. Between 1958 and 1980, the district grew rapidly, building and populating 12 schools. The district experienced a similar period of growth from 1992 through 2008, adding six more schools. Including the two original facilities, a majority of their buildings are more than 40 years old, with a few exceeding the age of 60. Over the last several years, the School District has experienced a decrease in infrastructure funding. For a long time, an assigned district administrator oversaw energy conservation and energy savings in traditional modes by monitoring behaviors such as turning off lights and electronic appliances; moreover, administrators simply assumed that if there was a limited budget available for normal upkeep, building upgrades or renovations weren’t a possibility.

THE DRIVE FOR CHANGE Dr. Aguilar-Lawlor created ‘Listening Tours’ in an effort to educate herself on the needs of the schools and build trust within the district. For the first several months of her becoming the superintendent, she toured the district and held open meetings for all staff, providing a platform for free communication to share concerns, feedback, and opportunities for improvement. She used the same format to meet with parent groups. Right away, Dr. Aguilar-Lawlor realized teachers, parents, and staff were tired of sitting idle while the buildings deteriorated around their student scholars. Energy Services Media sat down with Dr. Aguilar-Lawlor and Dr. Cecilia Maes, Assistant Superintendent of District Operations,

Pictured from left: Dr. LeeAnn Aguilar-Lawlor, Cartwright SD Superintendent; Dr. Cecilia Maes, Cartwright SD Assistant Superintendent of District Operations Photos by Brad Olson

“If you listen and value what your community and your stakeholders are saying, you can make the environment around them better to maximize learning potential.” — DR. AGUILAR-LAWLOR

to learn about how they were able to deploy a $40 million ESPC during the pandemic and what type of challenges they faced. ESM: How did you conduct your listening tours, and what were you hearing from the stakeholders? Dr. Aguilar-Lawlor : I asked the attendees to write down things that they didn’t want to get rid of. Then, I asked them to write down what they didn’t like or would like to see changed and if they could wave a magic wand to choose anything, without constraints. I walked out of the room and let them work individually and together to come up with ideas, which they could submit anonymously. I read each response: the good, the bad, and the ugly. I learned a lot, and immediately after I did this with the first couple of schools, word started to spread around the district. ENERGY SERVICES TODAY



95% VIRTUAL Everything but the Investment Grade Audit was completed virtually, Falconer states; "The whole piece of the development was done virtually, including the final board meeting. The piece that we didn't do virtually, of course, was the audits. We had to have teams come into the schools. Luckily, in our state, construction was still a go. Since their buildings were empty, it enabled us to speed up the process, we were able to get the results quicker, and in-turn provide information to the district sooner than expected."

QUICKER SALES CYCLE When asked how the pandemic has impacted the timeframe of projects, Falconer explained how the sales cycle has been reduced. In the case of Cartwright School District ESPC project, it was due to an increased focus on the need for healthier buildings. "Meeting a potential client and getting to a board meeting usually takes 12-months plus. We took a process that was 12- to 18- months, depending, and turned it into a 6-month process," Falconer states. "That was made possible by the district having such great leadership that was on task and tuned in their community."

EMPTY BUILDINGS = EXPEDITED CONSTRUCTION PHASE Falconer explains how the construction phase has been greatly reduced because buildings are empty; "On the other districts that we're working on, we've picked up probably 20% to 30% in our construction period because the buildings are empty. I suspect it'll be the same thing with the Cartwright project. We are currently looking at an 18-month construction schedule, depending on when their kids go back to school. There is a great likelihood that we could be two or three months ahead of schedule." Contact Randy Falconer:



We started to build trust. The parents, staff, and teachers began to work together and created lists of improvements they’d like to see. For example, one of the first requests was a water filtration system on all the campuses. That went to the top of the priority list. Then, we started to hear suggestions for solar panels. Several other districts and businesses in the area use solar panels to provide shade and power simultaneously. That idea provided the first steppingstone into energy-efficiency projects. The staff asked me if I could go into their classrooms to see some of the things they wanted for our students, showing us their facilities' ins and outs and directing our focus where it needed to be. If you listen and value what your community and your stakeholders are saying, you can make the environment around them better to maximize learning potential. This led me to restructure our staffing to focus attention on building operations. Dr. Maes was appointed as the Assistant Superintendent of District Operations in 2019. She is a strong leader, incredibly efficient, and very passionate about her work. She is managing our active ESPC, in addition to several other critical responsibilities. Dr. Maes: As the wish list of items that needed upgrades started to grow, it prompted us to start thinking about how we were going to be able to maximize our capital funds to accomplish everything we needed. Dr. Aguilar-Lawlor is one of those leaders that pushes us to listen to what the community wants, then figures out how to make it happen. Dr. Aguilar-Lawlor: The effort to find the solution that prioritized both the environment and the district was a collective effort driven by all of our stakeholders. ESM: Were you familiar with Energy Savings Performance Contracting before you started pursuing these improvements? Dr. Aguilar-Lawlor: I don't believe either Dr. Maes or myself really knew what that was. We knew what we wanted to do, and we also knew we had limited funding. Our staff and parents introduced us to many great resources. One of these was an outside group called Chispa, an Arizona-based organization committed to advancing climate justice. Dr. Maes and I also asked ourselves how we could maximize education opportunities and learning spaces. We belong to the Arizona Latino Administrators Association (AZALAS), and we were invit-

ed to meet with the state to discuss performance contracting. Leadership from AZALAS introduced us to energy savings performance contracting. From there, we met with our district attorney because these projects can get very complicated. We also wanted to make sure the opportunities we saw weren’t too good to be true. Dr. Maes: During that time, I took a course with AASBO, the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, to learn more about performance contracting. The facilitator shared how many districts are utilizing them because of limited academic funding. During these discussions, I learned about Midstate Energy, the company that ended up completing the ESPC. The facilitator shared insights into how energy costs are rising. When you have old facilities, as we do, that increase will have a more significant cost implication due to the broader scale of inefficiencies. She told us how districts have to get creative and how performance contracts have worked well for so many. After completing that course, I spoke to other districts who had recently taken advantage of performance contracts, and all spoke very highly about its ability to give them options to meet their needs. I called our attorney, our chief financial officer, Victoria Farrar, and Dr. Aguilar-Lawlor. The course facilitator had informed us that new laws and statutes had been enacted in recent years that affected how ESPCs impacted school districts. Our attorney reviewed the regulations and told us that he believed an ESPC was a win-win; we would be able to conserve energy with available funds without burdening the taxpayers. Dr. Aguilar-Lawlor: That's the best part about a performance contract: it doesn't increase taxes; it's all about savings and using those energy savings to make necessary improvements to the facilities. ESM: Were there other important parties you pulled in during the discovery phase of the project to ensure they’d support the initiative? Dr. Aguilar-Lawlor: One of the things we did was engage in strategic planning with the governing board and all of our school principals, along with leaders from my team. We updated the district's top three goals to reflect the priorities we’d learned from parents, teachers, and staff. One of them was to expand student achievement. The second was to ensure excellent customer service. We decided to change our third goal, to focus on and promote social emotional learning. Once we updated our top three goals, we discussed all of the things we needed to do to accomplish them. We met with our governing board periodically over the course of a semester, and we came up with two lists: the top 10 operational and top 10 educational priorities for our school district. We found that including the governing board throughout the whole process was crucial to its success.

ESM: Once you determined an ESPC was the right option for the school district, what were the next steps? Dr. Maes: In the spring of 2020, I put together all of the information about what the community wanted and needed. We contacted Midstate, who completed an Investment Grade Audit during the late spring and provided a proposal shortly after. During that time, we met with our Chief Financial Officer, Victoria Farrar, several times a week to discuss the project and ensure we weren’t missing anything. Once everyone felt comfortable with the structure and the proposal, we started to prepare a presentation for our governing board. As the development phase of the project proceeded, I would update the board through weekly bulletins so that it would not come as a surprise when we presented the project. In September, Midstate presented the overall project to the board, and it was approved. We were able to start working on the project the day after the board meeting. Midstate prioritized which buildings to work on based on where we would experience the greatest energy savings. We began with lighting projects because those generated immediate savings. Every night lighting was replaced; the next day we’d get a report of which classrooms and what areas received new lighting, and which ones were in progress. ESM: When you brought the project to the school board during a time of budgetary uncertainty, what kind of feedback did you receive? Did you face any initial push back? Dr. Aguilar-Lawlor: It was a positive reaction. Honestly, it was great news for a change. The reaction was essentially: “Wow, we can do this! We can do this for our community!” They were very excited, and that enthusiasm was contagious. They couldn't believe that we had found a way to do some of the things we had proposed. Dr. Maes: Our board is also very concerned with the sustainability and learning environment of our buildings. Board member, Mr. Pedro Lopez mentioned that he thinks about his kids, grandkids, and future generations that will come through the district. It was evident that the board knew how important it was to think about how best to conserve water and energy. They are all extremely bright and strong advocates for positive reform. ESM: How is construction going? Do you have an idea when your students will be coming back? Dr. Maes: We are hopeful our students can come back in January 2021.* In the meantime, we can work around the clock on all of these projects because many of the areas that Midstate needs to access are unoccupied right now. That allows us to do more in a shorter period. At the same time, the contractors we work with are used to working at night, so we'll continue when the students are back on campus. ENERGY SERVICES TODAY


ESM: Was there additional scope added to the project to combat COVID-19? Dr. Aguilar-Lawlor: Throughout and prior to the pandemic, I have received calls and emails from principals, teachers and parents voicing concerns about the schools HVAC systems and the air quality. In addition to the project’s nearly 500 new AC units, which are desperately needed, all of these will be utilizing bipolar ionization to filter the air. This will not only protect our students and faculty from COVID, but it is also an investment to help us combat the flu and other types of viruses. The upgrades will improve our air quality and provide a cool environment for our staff and students. Because it is so hot most of the year in this area, this will directly contribute to an improved learning environment.

and community, find out what matters to them, and keep the school board involved in setting district goals and priorities. In the end, it's absolutely worth it. Research, data, and communication are key, so take the time to execute and manage them well. Dr. Maes: This experience and Dr. Aguilar-Lawlor's leadership reminds me of something my grandpa used to say: “Where’s there a will, there’s a way.” Our faculty, parents, and students wanted these improvements, and we found a way. Our experience has shown that ESPCs are a proven option for school districts of any size and with any budget.

ESM: What advice would you give to other school districts who want to achieve energy-efficiency upgrades and are interested in pursuing an ESPC? Dr. Aguilar-Lawlor: Well, I would say that they should do their homework. I’m happy to be a resource for other school districts; they can call us and get our take on it. Listen to the staff

With the valiant help of several internal and external resources and the direction of Chief Financial Officer, Victoria Farrar, the school district was able to research, develop, and award an Energy Savings Performance Contract in a very short period during a global pandemic. The project will provide a safe and healthy district that will benefit students for generations to come. Driven by the voices of the district's stakeholders, the push for change came from the bottom up and was realized through Dr. Aguilar-Lawlor ’s strong leadership.
























• •

*As of January 2021, due to high cases of COVID-19, Cartwright School District will continue e-learning until their COVID-19 task force deems it safe to re-open. *Statistics were calculated estimates from based on the lifespan of the contract kWh savings. 8




Now, schools are scrambling to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations for improving ventilation, seen as crucial to minimizing the spread of COVID-19 indoors. Meanwhile, a spate of recent research has linked air conditioning, air filters, and other building improvements to gains in student learning. That means the stakes of improving America’s school buildings are higher than ever. What’s still unclear is whether schools will be able to address ventilation concerns in the short term to help convince leery teachers and families it’s safe to return—and whether over the long term, they’ll get the resources to address building issues that make it harder for students to learn. “So many infrastructure, air quality issues that teachers have tried so hard to get addressed...have just been ignored,” said Kristen Record, a high school physics teacher in Stratford, Connecticut. “Unfortunately, we’re now seeing the consequences of that in the middle of a global pandemic.”

“The pandemic is spotlighting longstanding issues with America’s school buildings” was originally published on September 15th, 2020, by Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public education.

The focus on ventilation has come as scientists generally believe COVID-19 primarily spreads through the air, particularly indoors where stagnant air allows particles from an infected person’s breath or sneezes to linger.

Even though this piece was published in the fall of 2020, we feel the information shared is valuable. The messaging still holds true today.

“The riskiest places are indoor environments with a lot of people that have very poor ventilation, and you’re in there for many hours,” said Jeff Vincent, a director and cofounder of the Center for Cities & Schools at the University of California, Berkeley.

BY MATT BARNUM, CHALKBEAT The Government Accountability Office sounded a dire warning: One in three public school students—some 14 million—was learning in a building in need of extensive repair. In New Orleans, that meant rotting buildings with no air conditioning. In rural California, it meant difficult-to-maintain portable classrooms. America’s school facilities, one observer said, were a “national crisis.” That report was issued in 1995. When the same office, an independent arm of the federal government, undertook another examination this June, the findings were familiar: in most of the country’s school districts, building systems—things like plumbing, roofing, and fire protection—were in need of major updates or total replacement. One-third of public schools were estimated to have inadequate heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems.

That description applies to some classrooms. Researchers have long raised concerns about air quality in schools, with studies in the U.S. and other countries finding classrooms are generally under-ventilated. That’s led public health officials to add adequate ventilation to a broader list of safety considerations for schools. Specifically, buildings should have new air being regularly brought into each space or make sure air is being filtered. One way to check those boxes is simply to open classroom windows, assuming they function and the weather permits. (That could prove difficult in some places. About one in four school districts needed to update or replace windows in most school buildings, according to the latest GAO report.) Another option is to put in place portable air filters. And a third is to make sure the building’s ventilation system is working well and properly programmed. “When an HVAC system is configured properly and it’s running,” said Theresa Pistochini, the engineering manager at the UC Davis Energy Efficiency Institute, “we essentially get this ENERGY SERVICES TODAY


combination of particle removal and dilution. Overall, that’s going to reduce transmission of airborne disease.” Recognition of the role ventilation can play in COVID transmission has prompted a flurry of school building upgrades across the country, though it’s too early to gauge their success. Denver Public Schools has invested nearly $5 million to improve HVAC units and install new air filters. Hillsborough County schools in Florida are upgrading their air filters. Vermont offered federal relief dollars to schools interested in upgrading their HVAC systems and improving air quality; within weeks, most schools had signed up. But years of watching facilities issues go unresolved has left many teachers and their unions wary. Carol Sutton began her teaching career at Greenwich High School in Connecticut in the 1980s. For decades, she said, the building’s windows didn’t open and the HVAC system struggled, even in one of the most affluent areas of the country. “All of a sudden you realize that you’re sweating and haven’t had a good breath of air in a bit,” she said. Now the local union president, Sutton says she has sought certification from an expert that the existing systems are well-functioning, but has not received it. “Whether or not the ventilation system is adequate in a time of pandemic, the perception is that it’s not,” said Sutton. Toni Jones, the superintendent of Greenwich schools, noted in a statement that replacing HVAC systems is costly and time consuming. “We have many other safety protocols in place, including social distancing [and] mandatory face masks,” said Jones. This trust gap matters because educator concerns are a big factor in whether school districts decide to resume in-person instruction. New York City school officials inspected the ventilation in its tens of thousands of classrooms, and declared the vast majority of them safe, but many teachers and some experts remain concerned. Inadequate ventilation is just a symptom of the broader school facilities challenge, though, especially in low-income areas. A 2016 report estimated that nationally, constructing and maintaining high-quality buildings would cost an extra $46 billion more every year, although the problem varies state to state. How did we get here? One factor: school districts have been spending less on their facilities since the last recession. Annual per-student spending on capital projects fell sharply starting in 2009 and hadn’t recovered by 2016, federal data show. Deep cuts there may have helped schools avoid teacher layoffs, for example, but could cause trouble in the long run. Building maintenance spending was basically flat during that period. “Many schools across the country are in disrepair, and it’s chronic, ongoing deferred maintenance each year that compounds over time,” said Vincent of the Center for Cities & Schools. Since most money for school facilities is raised locally, poorer districts also tend to be at a disadvantage. The GAO report found 10


that while affluent districts spent over $1,000 per student annually on capital construction, high-poverty districts spent around $700 per student. High-poverty schools were also more likely to report that their buildings were in fair or poor condition, a 2014 federal report found. Another issue that may have diverted attention and resources from basic facilities upgrades: The GAO report found that building security was school officials’ top facilities concern, despite the fact that schools are generally very safe. The irony of America’s school facilities struggles is that while spending has flatlined or declined, a body of research linking that kind of spending to learning gains has been growing. One recent study found that students, particularly low-achieving students, made greater gains on math and reading tests in Texas districts where voters agreed to spend more on school facilities. Another paper found that high schoolers scored worse on the PSAT when they took the exam in particularly hot classrooms. There are some exceptions to these findings. But the weight of the research indicates that efforts to solve school building problems in the short term could have long-term benefits. It’s also bolstered advocates like Mary Filardo, who began pushing for better school facilities when her children were attending a Washington, D.C. public school in the 1980s. The education they received was great, she says. But her kids missed school because classrooms were unbearably hot in warm parts of the year, too cold and without working heat on cold days, and because of fire code violations. “The building was just horrendous,” she says now. “It seemed to me that it was an area that we could do better.” Filardo has since started the 21st Century School Fund, which advocates for federal funding for school facilities. She was heartened that the House recently passed a bill with $130 billion to help schools improve their buildings and reopen safely, though it hasn’t gone anywhere in the Senate.** The challenge now, she acknowledged, is getting these physical needs prioritized with so many other educational needs stacking up thanks to the pandemic. “There’s concern that facilities funding will compete with these very real needs on the education side,” she said. “I think there is some more attention to school facilities going forward, but it is a tough road.”

**FutureEd, an independent, solution-oriented think tank at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, published an article on Dec. 23rd, 2020, detailing the Covid-19 relief package that would provide widespread economic aid, including more financial support for schools. Read “What Congressional Covid Funding Means for K-12 Schools” at

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