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Omaha schools get lighting/energy facelift

Typical of many schools throughout the nation, elementary and junior high facilities in the Omaha Public School system were constructed decades ago, from the 1920s through the '60s. And although the fluorescent lighting system installed in classrooms was still serviceable, it had become inefficient as far as light output and energy were concerned.

With no-interest loans through the Nebraska School Weatherization Program as an incentive, OPS decided to retrofit existing units with a more efficient system. The challenge became how to upgrade the system without doing extensive and expensive modernization.

The original lighting system was designed around pendant-mounted fluorescent units hung from the ceiling in multiples of three. A total of 21 or 24 units were installed in each classroom, depending on the room's size. The white ceilings are 12 to 13 feet high.

"With the original system, much of the light was going up on the ceiling instead of on the desks, where it was needed," said Robert Haringa, maintenance manager for Omaha Public Schools. "The units were also expensive to operate from an energy standpoint."

As a strategy to address both energy consumption and improve light levels, maintenance personnel conducted a six month test in two classrooms using a Holophane fluorescent retrofit kit. The kit includes a new reflector, premium lens, new sockets and electronic ballast. It also utilizes efficient T-8 lamps, which have a longer life than the original T-12 units.

"We liked the efficiency of the Holophane system and the looks of the individual units better than the existing egg crate-type fixtures," Haringa said. "By using the Holophane system, we could retrofit the units utilizing the existing pendants."

Classrooms at six elementary schools and Beveridge Junior High were retrofit with a total of 1,721 fixtures, which replaced 3,265 original units. Haringa indicated that the efficiency of the new reflector allowed fixture numbers to be cut in half (channels covers were installed between fixtures). The number of ballasts used was also reduced since each electronic ballast drives two fixtures or four lamps.

Watts per room decreased by 58 to 63 percent. Haringa said he expects the payback to range from five to 10 years.
"Fixtures at the junior high have a higher payback since the classrooms are used more frequently," he said.

Illumination levels went from 40 footcandles with the original system to 50 footcandles at desk level after the retrofit. Units are controlled by a switch.

"The biggest advantage of the Holophane retrofit kit is the fact that we could improve the light level in the classrooms without doing a lot of modifications, like installing a suspended ceiling. The project also went very quickly, with an average classroom requiring about six hours to complete," Haringa said.

He added that teachers indicated they noticed a significant improvement in the light levels. Utility bills have also been cut substantially. Because of this, the district will retrofit three additional schools this year.


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