News & Awards


Small Steps Toward a Brighter Future

By Christina Koch

The saying may be “everything is bigger in texas,” but California can’t be far behind. It’s the third largest state in the nation in terms of area, boasting 163,707 square miles (424000 km2). It has the country’s largest population, almost 34 million people; Los Angeles is the second largest city in the United States with just under 4 million residents. California also has one of the country’s largest trees, the redwood, which can reach heights up to 300 feet (91 m). And who can forget the country’s largest governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger!

California’s booming population also can be seen in its schools. The Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, has 750,000 students in 1,000 schools and currently is building 200 more. In that school district alone, the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) has its work cut out for it. CHPS’ goal is to improve the quality of education for California’s students and facilitate the design of learning environments that are resource efficient, healthy, comfortable, well lit and contain the amenities needed for a quality education.

Charles Eley, FAIA, PE, is CHPS’ executive director, and it’s easy to see why the work CHPS has ahead of it can be described as small steps toward a brighter future.

In the Beginning
CHPS officially was established in 2001. At that time, one of California’s energy commissioners invited representatives from Southern California Edison, Rosemead; Pacific Gas & Electric, San Francisco; and the California Integrated Waste Management Board, Sacramento, to meet and discuss coordinating their school energy programs. These representatives needed a facilitator for their meetings at which time Eley was contacted.

Eley is an architect, city planner and mechanical engineer by trade. All his areas of expertise are centered on buildings and energy efficiency.

“Energy efficiency is one of the key aspects of high-performance schools,” Eley notes, though he says there are many other factors to creating a great learning environment.

For 35 years, Eley was president of Eley Associates, San Francisco. Last year, the firm merged with Architectural Energy Corp., which is headquartered in Boulder, Colo., and has offices in San Francisco and Chicago. Eley is Architectural Energy’s vice president.

After CHPS organized as a not-for-profit in 2002 and Eley was named executive director, he produced the five-volume CHPS Best Practices Manual. Volume I addresses the needs of school districts, including superintendents, parents, teachers, school board members, administrators and others responsible for facilities.

Volume II, Design features 444 pages of technical design guidelines for high-performance schools tailored for California climate zones.

Volume III, Criteria addresses prerequisites necessary to become a CHPS School, a self-certified rating program in which schools must achieve 28 out of 81 points to be considered a high-performance school. Schools can achieve points in six categories, including site, water, energy, materials, indoor environmental quality and district resolutions.

“We know of 15 schools currently being designed to our standard,” Eley says. “Four schools are completed and we’ve verified they comply — Alder Creek Middle School [Truckee], Georgina Blach Intermediate School [Los Altos], Cesar Chavez Learning Center [Oakland] and Escondido Charter High School [Escondido].”

Alder Creek Middle School, Georgina Blach Intermediate School and Cesar Chavez Learning Center also are demonstration schools; they are sponsored in part by CHPS board members to show examples of optimal high-performance features. According to Eley, there are nine more demonstration projects being built.

“We think energy costs for high performance schools should be 20 to 30 percent lower than a traditional school,” Eley says.

The 321-page Volume IV, Maintenance & Operations ensures school buildings continue to provide the best health, efficiency and sustainability. Chapters are directed toward district and managerial staff, as well as maintenance, custodial and grounds crews, and contain guidelines for the building envelope, lighting, HVAC, landscaping, plumbing, and snow management and de-icing.

Volume V, Commissioning addresses the procedures to verify that new school buildings perform as intended.

Helping Others
Although CHPS is a California-based organization, school districts in other states are noticing the work it has done and are interested in using CHPS tools. Massachusetts, New York and Washington have licensed CHPS Best Practices Manual and adapted the criteria for their states.

“The Best Practices Manual has guidelines and principles that would apply in other states or areas, but all of our education programs and so forth are centered here in California,” Eley explains.

CHPS informally meets with other states to coordinate programs and provide modifications to CHPS intellectual property. However, CHPS board of directors and bylaws are California-centric.

“There are designated seats on the CHPS’ board for the California State Architect, California Department of Education and California Office of Public School Construction. There also are various designated seats for California utilities,” Eley explains. “We have a huge construction program here for schools; our board believes we should concentrate on that and not dilute our interests too much. We’re willing to work with other states and share our information and programs but we’re focused mostly on our state.”

In addition to helping other states, CHPS has adopted a test standard, Section 01350, to help architects and school districts confidently choose materials that are safe to use in classrooms. The standard was developed by several California organizations, including the California Department of Health Services, California Integrated Waste Management Board, California Air Resources Board, etc. The procedure involves taking a small sample of a proposed material and putting it in a test chamber. As air, consisting mostly of nitrogen, passes through the test chamber, an absorber on the exhaust side absorbs emissions. The absorber then is analyzed by a chemist who can spot and quantify concentrations of formaldehyde, benzene and other toxic emissions. Tests are performed by independent test laboratories.

The CHPS Low-Emitting Materials Table can be found at manual/ lem_table.htm. (To learn more about low-E test protocols and standards, see “eco-tech,” page 70 in the September 2005 eco-structure issue.)

Partnering with USGBC
Presently, Eley has two positions within the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). He’s an advisor to the Technical Advisory Group on Energy and a member of the Application Guide for Schools Committee, which intends to modify LEED® for New Construction to be used for schools.

“I think a lot of what we’ve done in CHPS will be incorporated there,” Eley says. “Indoor environmental quality issues in schools, such as acoustics in classrooms, are critically important and currently not addressed in LEED.”

Eley notes the major differences between LEED and CHPS criteria are what make the CHPS rating system applicable to California.

He explains: “Any rating system has baselines for water and energy consumption and so forth. Every baseline has to be defined by a standard. LEED uses national standards; CHPS uses California standards. For energy, the national standard referenced in LEED is ASHRAE 90.1. CHPS uses California Title 24 as its baseline.”

Title 24, or The Energy Efficiency Standards for Residential and Nonresidential Buildings, was established in 1978 in response to a state mandate to reduce California’s energy consumption.

A Brighter Future
Eley says the work CHPS is doing is not rocket science. Instead, he says, the organization simply is asking architects and districts to return to the basics of school design—good daylighting, natural ventilation where climates permit, building orientation, using overhangs, etc.

“All of these things are tried-and-true design principles we’re encouraging people to return to,” Eley notes. “At the same time, a high-performance school does incorporate advanced control and energy-management systems when appropriate. These systems should monitor energy performance in schools and spot problems before they become big problems.”

Eley hopes that someday all schools will be designed as CHPS Schools.

“We don’t see any reason why that can’t be achieved,” he says. “It’s going to take an educational effort and financial effort, at least in the beginning. I think in the long term the costs are insignificant. The major costs associated with CHPS Schools are mostly soft costs, meaning engineering and architectural services. The additional costs of high-performance equipment are essentially insignificant.”