MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The South Orange-Maplewood School District and the Maplewood Green Team are working together on a multi-year action plan to address overheating issues in the schools. Because the school buildings are almost a century old, this project is a cost-effective way to achieve greater classroom comfort as well as energy savings.
“If you have a child in a SOMSD school, you know that some of the schools have a significant overheating problem. What you may not know is that there is an aggressive campaign under way to make improvements on this issue,” Tracey Woods, chairwoman of the Maplewood Green Team and a Tuscan Elementary School parent, said in a press release.
The Maplewood Green Team developed an online survey for faculty and staff to report the heat conditions in their working spaces. Using the results of the survey to make adjustments to the heating protocols, the pilot school, Tuscan Elementary School, was able to see significant improvement between the 2016 and 2017 heating seasons. The results of the surveys for the two years were compared and there is a one-third increase in the number of classrooms that report the conditions as comfortable and a significant reduction in the number of windows open while the heat is on. In the 2017 school year, South Orange Middle School, Seth Boyden Elementary School and South Mountain School have also participated in the heat survey.
“The SOMSD administration and the schools have been great partners,” Woods said. “After more than a year of working collaboratively, we are glad to see some positive returns.”
In 2016, Sustainable Jersey awarded the SOMSD Green Team a $10,000 grant, funded by the Gardinier Environment Fund, to conduct a districtwide heat mapping survey to identify cold and hot zones in the school buildings and assess repairs needed.
The partners are now looking for a way to alert school administrations in real time as the classrooms overheat, so that adjustments can be made. The Maplewood Green Team presented the problem to Coding for Communities, a civic tech competition organized by Sustainable Jersey. At the kickoff, the Maplewood Green Team partnered with Ankur Patel of Encore Dev Labs. Ankur Patel suggested using custom-built units to report and track the temperature in the classrooms. These units also send alerts to the school administrations when the rooms exceed set temperatures or when a window is open while the heat is on. The units are currently being piloted at Tuscan Elementary School for the month of March.
At the end of March, the data from Tuscan Elementary School will be reviewed. If the units are determined to be helpful, more units will be constructed and placed in all of the school buildings.
“It’s still early in the process, but the returns look promising,” Tuscan Vice Principal Kevin Mason said in the press release. “These units tell us where problems exist, help us fine-tune the heat settings in real time and create data collections that are easily studied.”
The team will be identifying the physical changes that need to be made to the heating systems to reflect current room configuration and usage. Many of the schools have changed room sizes and added wings since the heat systems were originally balanced and this is one of the root causes of the overheating issue.
“We still have work to do, but we are hopeful about the progress already achieved and the plan is in place to build on that progress. The goal is to save the district money and energy costs while making the classrooms more comfortable for faculty and students,” SOMSD business administrator Paul Roth said in the release.
In 2015, the SOMSD Green Team was created with a mission to coordinate and plan sustainability activities across the school district and to educate students and the community about the benefits of sustainability. All of the schools in the district participate in the districtwide green team and the resulting increase in sustainability programs and projects has been evident. Participants trace this success to collaboration. The schools work together on sustainability actions and the collaboration with the municipal Maplewood and South Orange green teams, which are recognized leaders in New Jersey, play an important role in developing the school district green team. The SOMSD Green Team was recognized with the 2016 Collaboration Award from Sustainable Jersey for outstanding achievement resulting from collaboration with the municipal green teams.