Facilities (Learning Spaces)
Comfort and Health
- By Rachel Ruhl
- April 1st, 2016
MODINE PHOTOS BY ALAN KLEHR
Every student needs a
measure of comfort to achieve scholastic
success. Studies prove that
when classroom temperatures are too hot,
too cold or too humid, students struggle
to overcome it. The distractions can lead
When uncomfortable, a person’s brain
is constantly reminding the body to do
something about the condition, making it
hard for a student to stay focused.
With comfort, students work better and
get smarter. That’s a fact.
Nick White, director of operations for
Lakeshore public schools in Stevensville,
Mich., has orchestrated many changes
recently. His attention and prudent
management of school improvements at
three elementary schools, middle school
and high school — to include broad HVAC
upgrades — have improved both student
and teacher comfort, and energy efficiency
at each facility.
In 2013, White and the Lakeshore
school board looked at options, hoping
to enhance student achievement. It’s
been about twenty years since any of
the schools had new heating equipment
installed, and none of them had any form
of air conditioning.
“It was time to do something,” said
White. “We would get daily complaints
from teachers about the inconsistency of room heating. Students seated by old, under-the-window unit
ventilators were either sweating or shivering.
“In the mornings,” he added, “the ventilators would be blasting
heat and later, as the thermostat was satisfied, outside air was
brought in to improve indoor air quality and student health.”
But the fresh air entering the rooms became a textbook lesson
in thermal shock. Cold air immediately conditioned students and
teachers: the discomfort was so routine that they knew to have
their winter jackets nearby.
White noise, too
“Another issue that we would get regular complaints about
was the noise of the units,” continued White. “Teachers constantly
had to yell to be heard over the incessant drone of the
“Remember Charlie Brown’s teacher [with a voice like a muffled
lullaby]? That’s how our teachers sounded to students before we got
a new heating and cooling system; they couldn’t stay awake,” he said
with a chuckle. “Our HVAC woes became a huge distraction.”
White contacted Scott Morgenstern, senior mechanical engineer
for Kingscott Associates — an architectural and engineering
firm, based in Kalamazoo.
“Nick informed me that the school district was looking to do
a significant amount of renovating and remodeling in all of the
schools,” explained Morgenstern. “The bulk of work to be funded
was slated to improve classroom HVAC systems — replacing old
unit ventilators with new, quiet, energy efficient ones.
“The old systems were not only noisy, but they weren’t providing
sufficient air distribution,” he added. “They were basically oversized
fan coil units that sat under classroom windows with the sole
purpose of making life miserable for students and teachers alike.”
Overheating and under-heating was sure to affect classroom
conditions daily. The discomfort was palpable. Outdoor conditions
played an enormous role; another key variable was the location of
a student’s chair. Teachers could move their desk, or walk about,
but students were mostly unable to make improvements.
“Clearly, we needed a way to provide comfort within the
schools,” said White.
Morgenstern sought out Scott Bolhouse, at Bolhouse LLC, a
manufacturer’s rep based in Jenison, Mich.
“Scott contacted me with a need for a high volume of unit
ventilators,” said Bolhouse. “He explained the troubles Lakeshore
schools were experiencing. The school district needed
equipment that would offer consistent temperatures year-round,
quietly and efficiently.”
Bolhouse took White and Morgenstern on a tour of nearby
locations with unit ventilators already installed and running.
“We’ve found that it always helps to
demonstrate equipment operation; there’s
nothing quite like a working demo in a
setting not unlike the classrooms they
needed to improve,” said Bolhouse. White
and Morgenstern saw a variety of HVAC
equipment that day.
After further research into equipment
capable of solving problems at the school
district, they chose Modine’s Airedale
Classmate,” continued Bolhouse.
“One of the first things that stuck out to
me at the demo was the noise — or better —
the lack of it,” said White. “We learned
about the equipment’s impressive sound lab
performance, but it was most impressive
to see and hear the equipment during our
tour. We were certain that we’d found the
right technology for our schools.”
Cool and Quiet. In a school setting, a good HVAC system is a quiet one. Students and staff at
Roosevelt Elementary School in Stevensville, Mich., are breathing more healthful air and perform
better in class because the new HVAC systems are quieter, making it easier to hear the instructors.
Replacements for all classrooms
For the five schools, 132 units were
specified, and two Modine Varsity under-the-window units were chosen for the high
school football locker room.
The classroom units have super-efficient
electronically commutated motors (ECM)
and micro channel coils. Advanced blower
and compressor technologies contribute to
the decreased sound and power output.
They also have a proprietary CF coil,
offering substantial improvements over
existing parallel flow (PF) coil technology
so prevalent in the HVAC market today.
The all-aluminum counter flow (CF)
coils provide superb condensing and
evaporation. Inside the CF coil, refrigerant
makes two-passes — once up and then
back down — to create a uniformly conditioned
The vertical systems allow for
ductwork and diffusers to be connected
easily so that sound from the fan and the
moving air are distributed throughout the
room, which more or less eliminates the
“Kingscott has been designing with vertical
style ventilators for years,” said Morgenstern.
“These types of units have been
our preferred solution since they came on
the market. Being able to provide ducted
supply systems to the classrooms allows
for better temperature control throughout
an entire room — which was a huge win
for the Lakeshore Schools.” The two-stage
cooling keeps the units operating in the
most efficient range possible at all times.
With jobs like this, the question of
controls always comes up. “Do we use our
local contractor’s controls or do we use the
manufacturer’s controls?” asked White. Scott
Morgenstern prefers to use a manufacturer’s
control package for single-source reliability.
“We know they’ve tested the controls, and the
better firms test them exhaustively,” he said.
Timing is everything
“Lakeshore district’s first question to us
before we won the bid was whether or not we
could deliver the equipment on time,” explained
Gillis. “There’s a very small window
of opportunity to get these types of school
jobs done since the work — demolition,
installation and start-up of all units —
must be completed during the summer
months so that they’re ready to go for the
following school year.”
“The unit we chose does a great job at
delivering units on time, and each day that
was slated for unit deliveries, the promise to
have them there was kept,” said Bolhouse.
This is the first school year since all the
new unit ventilators have been installed.
White says the teachers have nothing but
praise at the lack of noise, and the delivery
of consistent temperatures — and conditioned
fresh air — in the classrooms.
“The renovations have had a dramatic
‘ladder’ effect. The students are happy, not
distracted, and learning . . . which in turn
makes the teachers happy, making it easier
for them to inspire the student body, which
in turn makes the school board happy,”
This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.