2014 CEFPI Annual Conference and Expo: Blazing Trails and Journey of Learning

Jeff YirakBy Jeff Yirak, P.E., LEED AP BD+C, O+M

I recently attended the Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI) Annual Conference, held October 3-6 in Portland. This year’s theme focused on creating the healthy, safe, and sustainable learning environments of the 21st century, exploring ways to give students resilient places to experience real-world opportunities for creativity, critical problem solving and collaboration. With a variety of breakout session presentations that covered a range of topics affecting modern K-12 school design and operation, the conference provided a chance to connect with our industry peers on the challenges and opportunities present in creating efficient and effective school design.

My colleague Paul Johnson and I had the opportunity to present on Sunday afternoon, with an architectural peer of ours, Keith Johnson of Dull Olson Weekes Architects-IBI Group, on the topic of project team collaboration and commissioning. Our panel discussion, “Play Nice: ‘Dealing with’ Your Commissioning Authority,” addressed the disconnects that sometimes occur between the Owner, designer, contractor, and commissioning authority on a project team, and we looked at methods of improving collaboration and the team relationship dynamics to benefit projects with better functional, cost, and schedule performance. You can read the full content of our presentation in the article adaptation.

Our discussion was well received and we were able to interact with the audience to a much higher degree than a normal didactic presentation. I enjoyed providing our panel’s insight to the real-life questions posed by the audience, and I think we had a pretty good time, too.

Before our presentation on Sunday afternoon, I was able to attend several sessions. The Saturday morning session I went to, “A Deep Dive into Energy Efficient School Design,” presented a case study of Oregon school projects that sought and achieved high level sustainability. Working with Energy Trust of Oregon incentives and resources for design assistance, energy modeling, and commissioning, and approaching projects with a focus on community involvement, the overarching goal was maximized facility efficiently.  The presenter, Dan Hess, emphasized that measurement and verification is required to provide measureable outcomes to prove (or disprove) the predictions of an energy project.  He also noted that it’s more cost-effective to build energy efficiency into a project, than try to add it on afterward.

The next session featured the energy efficiency that Evergreen Public Schools has achieved through Energy Star program participation and a district-wide commitment to resource conservation. They saved $9.1 million since November 2008 and reducing their energy consumption significantly. I made a note to talk to some of the Resource Conservation Managers (RCMs) I work with regularly to learn if they’re doing something similar.

The session that was most notable for me covered the topic of, “Safety and Security in 21st Century Facilities.” This presentation addressed the pitfalls in the typical assumption that safety and security in the school environment is best achieved with basic improvements like cameras and alarms within the isolated, “ready for lockdown” mentality of 20th century facility planning. The presenters countered that 21st century safety and security best practices need a 21st century facility plan, focused more on integrated and collaborative learning environments.  They espoused Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED); in this case “crime” might refer to violence, bullying, or anything else that is happening that shouldn’t be.

After learning about these security design philosophies, we participated in a hands-on activity of marking up facility plans to redesign them as safe and secure modern learning environments based on what we had just learned. It was a lot of fun working with the strangers at my table to collaborate on real school floor plans to try to make them safer.  I learned some interesting perspectives (and lost a few arguments) about how to make a school safer.  I thought the answer would be just to make it more defensible; the better answer is much more complicated, focusing mainly on reducing crime “opportunities.”  A school doesn’t have to look like a fortress or a prison to be safe.

When our final session wrapped up, Paul and I caught the train back to the hotel, hopped back into his car, and popped back to Bellevue. We didn’t get to stay for the golf tournament on Monday; maybe next year.  Until then, I’ll keep on my own journey of learning and try to blaze new commissioning trails.

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