Q&A with Samer Alzubaidi, Director of Facilities Planning and Development at the San Bernardino City Unified School District.
Samer Alzubadi has amassed over twenty-two years of extensive experience in K-12 planning and development, setting and managing budgets, construction engineering and management, project engineering, field inspection, quality control, and university teaching. Project types include schools, commercial and residential projects. He is also an Adjunct Professor at Cal Poly Pomona.
LAW: What are some of the challenges you face in achieving energy efficiency goals?
SA: Some of the most common challenges faced by energy efficiency projects include: Specific Funding or special financing, identification of energy conservancy projects that can be added to the lists after taking initial care of basic needs: building envelope (wall and/or roof insulation, utilities optimization, mechanical systems, etc.) and the lack of general knowledge that investing on these types of goals may appear expensive in the beginning due to the upfront disbursement of funds (perhaps 25% more of regular project costs) but that mid and long-term benefits are sizeable for any owner or School District.
Districts with hardship status will have a very hard time achieving the energy efficiency goals without State, local or utility companies’ help. Another challenge is the implementation of the energy efficiency goals for modernization projects, due to the increased cost for unforeseen conditions, especially when measures need to be added behind closed walls or above the ceiling level. The project cost will increase significantly. The lack of knowledge about the rate of return and future benefits could be another factor facing the lack of energy efficiency spread. Although new LED lights, energy efficient HVAC units, etc. have helped in the past decade to bridge the gap of energy understanding, as a nation and entire world, there is a lot that needs to be done.
LAW: What are the keys to convincing your colleagues to support energy efficiency initiatives?
SA: If design and construction teams are not including mandatory measures in their construction projects, it would take tailored training sessions targeted for upper management circles where expenses-to-benefit ratios for mid and long-terms can be explained and adopted. When School Districts venture in a new local Bond, specific energy efficiency measures may be added so they are effectively funded and integral part of future upgrades. The key is continuous engagement and coaching to all public entities to foster a good understanding for energy efficiency initiatives.
LAW: Has the climate of acceptance evolved over time? If so, why? How?
SA: The climate of acceptance may have evolved over time due to the general spread of basic concepts on the subject matter however; the Energy Conservancy culture is not a new concept; it seems to be more “trendy” nowadays so, it is believed that some Districts may be moving in this direction due to concept popularity among stakeholders or because neighboring Districts are also incorporating such measures into their Capital Improvement projects and it seems to be the right thing to do however; are Districts really convinced?
Every District has specific needs so; energy conservancy plans must be tailored for that specific District and in that specific region accordingly to their overall capabilities, do they have adequate personnel to manage energy projects? Or do they have to spend additional funds and hire third-party managers?
Another thing to consider is the intrusion of private/nonprofit entities, who claim they are experts in changing end-user behavior towards the energy usage, into School Districts and other public entities’ life. These private/nonprofit entities are politically powerful and they influence the decision to get them hired to monitor the energy usage through proprietary software claiming that they are saving the public entities hundreds of thousands of dollars on a monthly basis. Such step makes the implementation of energy initiatives somehow difficult with the absence of a master energy plan.
LAW: Do CHPS schools’ standards, and HPI incentives foster common energy efficiency goals? If so, why? How?
SA: They do have some common ground. These standards come from different sources. HPI used to be the program that would provide a monetary incentive to promote projects into the Green Schools arena, CHPS would be a recognized incentive that would provide more “bragging rights” to Districts than an actual monetary incentive, although mid and long-term benefits achieved through CHPS can be comparable to those achieved through HPI. However, in order to enhance the system, the HPI and CHPS need to be combined, and the CHPS status should be granted automatically to schools who achieved 25 points or more on any given score card for any given project.
LAW: How do code mandates affect your energy efficiency decisions, if at all? Are there challenges and opportunities that arise because of energy efficiency mandates?
SA: The answer is “It depends”. In general, mandates should not affect the energy efficiency decisions, on the contrary they may make them easier to implement if public entities have energy master plans and are already moving into the Energy-efficiency direction. The opportunities are vast and readily available however; if public entities are not moving into this direction, they would still have to comply with minimum measures regardless of the desired outcome.
LAW: How does a project team tie design performance to building performance?
SA: The design and construction processes include several steps to make sure design items are effectively incorporated into the construction documents, with constructability review and value engineering being some of the most common ones. Technology improved a lot and the industry started utilizing the Building Information Modeling (BIM), which is a process involving the generation and management of digital representations of physical and functional characteristics of places. This process will find the clashes and correct the mistakes before construction starts.
It is also known to model the energy and enhance the building envelope by implementing some energy conservation measures. Another way to verify performance is through commissioning where agents retained by owners confirmed that energy efficiency systems work as expected therefore, saving energy and money from the very beginning.
LAW: What is the most important energy efficiency goal for building green schools?
- Near or at Zero construction cost increase due to the implementation of HPI/CHPS/Energy Efficiency and Sustainability criteria.
- Great rate of return in the long run
- Low maintenance for buildings by implementing a longer life measures, for example LED lighting fixtures.
- Better education environment (LED lights provide brighter classroom)