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School Renovations 101

School facility maintenance is a year-round effort to ensure educational buildings are in tip-top shape, which means much more than making buildings functional. Facility owners are interested in renovations that will help save money and increase student enrollment.

In 2014, more than $3 billion was spent on renovating K-12 schools. Of these renovations, plumbing upgrades like replacing flush valves, faucets and showerheads were one of the most frequently undertaken projects. That's not surprising, especially when you calculate the reduced maintenance costs and additional benefits a facility can experience simply by retrofitting fixtures.

Flush Valves
It's important to select quality products to ensure optimal functionality, and all flush valves are not created equal. There are two types: 1) diaphragm and 2) piston technology. Common diaphragm flush valve designs are generally repaired after three to 12 months, making this a costly choice for schools due to the additional replacement parts and labor.

Instead, opt for piston technology which requires virtually no maintenance or replacement parts for the life of the flush valve, thus increasing the bottom line due to less upkeep over time. Pistons can withstand water pressure fluctuations which is especially important in older buildings. The technology also works better when dealing with line debris, which results from poor water supply cleanliness.

Another consideration when choosing piston technology is to select a model with double O-ring seals at the handles. This will help prevent leaks at the often-abused connection (ex. students repeatedly hitting the handle with their foot). When choosing a flush valve, products that are durable and designed to withstand the wear and tear of heavy daily usage offer the best return on investment.

Cost savings doesn't only come from choosing reliable products; facility managers should keep water usage and utility costs in mind, as well. With more laws requiring water conservation, facilities like the Community Consolidated School District (CCSD) 15 in Palatine, Illinois, for example, are placing a greater emphasis on water-efficient products. "We've reduced our monthly costs by nearly 50 percent by replacing hundreds of faucets and flush valves," said Craig Phillips, manager of environmental services at CCSD.

Eco-Performance, or low-flow models, can help to reduce water use. Sensor-operated faucets are a great option since faucets turn on only when hands are placed beneath the faucet and turn off immediately when no longer in use. These models offer the potential for up to 70 percent water savings when compared to manual lavatory faucets.

Additionally, hands-free faucets offer the benefit of not touching the faucet which can help reduce germ transmission -- especially important in educational spaces for its students, faculty and staff.

The condition of a building is an integral component of learning. In fact, students in deteriorating school buildings score between 6 to 11 percentile points lower on standardized achievement tests. Also, as more special education students are now integrated into traditional classrooms, the learning environment must also be designed to help them succeed, regardless of their abilities.

To ensure you're spending funds wisely, your upgrades should comply with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards for accessible design, as well as any additional local codes. If buildings are non-compliant, it can open the door for a complaint or lawsuit to be served on the owner or operator of the facility.

While the bathroom is a crucial area, renovations should also take place at the entrance of a building. ADA compliance states that manual door openings shall provide a clear width of 32 inches minimum -- which is the ideal clearance to allow for a wheelchair.

Install lighter doors, those that don't require more than 10 pounds of force to open; remove mats and secure carpeting over any thresholds to prevent slipping. Railings, power-assisted door openers, ramps as an alternative to stairs, and repairing any uneven pavement that could cause trips and falls are all additionally important considerations.

While ADA guidelines specify the minimum and maximum height for lavatory fixtures in public buildings -- these vary greatly in settings designed for use by children, with mounting height ranges dependent on the ages of the students being served. Additionally, ADA regulations for compliant faucets say that you must be able to turn on a faucet using less than five pounds of force and without twisting or straining your wrist.

Given these regulations, metering faucets are a practical option. Easy to operate, users simply press down on the faucet handle to activate water flow for a pre-set length of time; no need to twist the wrist to turn on hot and cold water. Contributing to a facility's conservation efforts, these faucets feature timed shutoffs, which can be adjusted from 10 to 60 seconds, controlling the amount of water used.

When weighing options, consider bull-nose, single-handle metering faucets since they extend further over the sink and only require one hand to use, meaning easy operation for all, especially younger students.

Other ADA-compliant options include motion-operated lighting or push-button door openers. In addition to ease of use, these upgrades also offer energy efficiencies, such as the lights no longer accidentally being left on; nor is heating and cooling lost from a door being left open -- both resulting in a positive impact on school operating expenses, as well.

Advance planning and thoughtful renovations are the key to making educational buildings more functional, as well as saving a school valuable time and money. These needed improvements will give facility managers high marks with school officials, students and the community.

For more information about products from Moen Commercial, visit www.moencommercial.com.  For complete ADA requirements, visit www.ada.gov.

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Christian School Products