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‘The importance of good IEQ has been established – we no longer need to prove it to anybody’

Jyoti Sharma, Senior Specialist for Education Facilities Design at the Infrastructure and Facilities Division of Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC), in this conversation with Fatima de la Cerna of Climate Control Middle East, shares details on the different programmes and standards ADEC has adopted to ensure that Abu Dhabi public schools are meeting IEQ requirements. […]

| | Nov 15, 2015 | 3:29 pm
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Jyoti Sharma, Senior Specialist for Education Facilities Design at the Infrastructure and Facilities Division of Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC), in this conversation with Fatima de la Cerna of Climate Control Middle East, shares details on the different programmes and standards ADEC has adopted to ensure that Abu Dhabi public schools are meeting IEQ requirements.

In the past several months, we have featured stories on organisations like the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), and the different programmes they have that promote better IEQ in Schools. One such programme is US EPA’s IAQ (Indoor Air Quality) Tools for Schools. Is that an initiative that ADEC might consider adopting?

We have actually looked at Tools for Schools. I’m not the person directly responsible, however, because we have the EHS (Environment, Health and Safety) Department. They are doing the actual monitoring, but we are handling the frontend – the design and the setting of the standards, among other things. So, I should say “yes” and “no”. We’ve been seriously looking at Tools for Schools, and while nothing has been implemented yet, some of its features are in our monitoring programme.

Could you elaborate on what those features are?

US EPA’s Tools for Schools programme is primarily aimed at creating awareness within schools, on things to watch out for. One of its components is a checklist for facilities maintenance, and that’s referred to by our EHS Department when they do a walk-through for IEQ issues. The programme also touches on the testing of certain pollutants and the levels they’re at. So, the checklist is used as reference when EHS conducts reviews of our schools.
Before coming to the UAE, you spent several years in Canada and the United States. Could you talk about the work you did then, in relation to schools and IEQ issues?

I spent around 20 years in Canada and 12 years in the United States, before I came here six years ago. In the United States, I served as the Vice Chair for the LEED for Schools Rating System Committee. LEED used to be just
straightforward LEED for buildings, but then, we developed LEED for schools – a specialisation where a lot of IEQ-related issues like VOCs and energy use are highlighted.
When you joined ADEC, how did you find its approach to the issue of IEQ? Was awareness already present?

No, there wasn’t any awareness of IEQ issues. We started introducing the concept of IEQ in new schools, because the old schools were designed preEstidama. Back then, everyone was still trying to figure things out.

When I joined, I was brought in as an adviser – I guess because of my background. We made the decision that even though Estidama was not launched yet, we will design our schools according to Estidama standards. Of course, being pre-launch, there was no validation yet, and without that, it was hard to evaluate how much we managed to accomplish. But the design followed, as did energy, water and IEQ requirements. The subject of VOCs and ventilation and other related aspects became part of the conversation.

I came in 2009, and we started designing at that point, and then in 2011, we opened the first of those schools. And from what I’m hearing, from the tests out there, we’re not having any problems when it comes to quality issues.
As an adviser, did you push for IEQ to be a consideration in school design?

I promoted the whole concept of Green Schools, actually. IEQ is only one aspect of Green Schools.

How was the response to Green Schools back in 2009?

It was a good time to be here, because the UAE leadership had already bought into the concept of Estidama, which means “sustainability” in Arabic. It’s just that the details were not worked out, but the concept was already there, making it easy for me to bring in Green Schools. If I hadn’t brought it along, design work on Green Schools may not have started at that particular time, but it would have been when Estidama was passed, which was two years later, I think. But the thought was already there, and Abu Dhabi Vision 2030 was already out there; so, it was easy to convince the decision makers here that we should do it.

We believed, at the time, that with the way we designed them, they would have met Pearl 3 or LEED Silver – somewhere there. And after that, once Estidama was launched, we officially did Pearl 3 schools. But, out of the whole Green Building concept, some components were always more important than others to us. They are energy, of course, and water and IEQ. Those were the three major components, for obvious reasons. IEQ is so critical. But you know that because you’ve talked about it in the magazine. You know that it’s so critical in schools and in homes – those are the two places where people, the young, in particular spend most of their time.

Several of the stories and information we’ve published on the issue of IEQ are based on international studies linking student well-being and academic performance to the state of indoor environments in schools. Are there any plans of ADEC partnering with other government bodies, such as the Ministry of Health, to carry out local research on the topic?

At this point, I’m not seeing the writing on the wall, for the simple reason that there’s so much to be done that is directly related to education on a day-to-day basis. I just don’t think we should focus on research. It’s a true-and-tried thing. The importance of IEQ has been established, and at this point, we no longer need to prove it to anybody. It’s something that we know; we believe in it and we’re proceeding with programmes related to it. We don’t need to spend our research resources, which are limited, on it. I did research on Green Buildings in my previous job, but those were the days when we had to justify the concept.

Based on your observation, what would you say are the most common IEQ hazards in old schools in Abu Dhabi?

The biggest hazard, more than anything else, are particulates. They’re all open schools, and dust just flies right in. Other than that, there’s not much to worry about. We’ve implemented standards on VOCs and formaldehyde and chemicals from finishes, paints, carpeting and cleaning materials, so those IAQ problems don’t pose much of a challenge. And any maintenance done on old schools is carried out according to current standards and new school guidelines.

I mean, I’m not the one doing the monitoring so I can’t go into details, record-wise. Knowledge-wise, however, I can say that IAQ is not much of a problem, because we’ve got ventilation and filtration systems. But there are doors that open to the corridors, so if there’s stuff in the air, it comes right in. That’s why there’s an issue with particulates. But I think that’s the only thing, because we do monitor, carefully.

Mould is not a problem?

No, mould is not a problem, because we watch out for that.

With, as you mentioned, IEQ issues already being monitored and design standards in place through Estidama, what challenges remain when it comes to meeting IEQ requirements and maintaining good IEQ in schools, in Abu Dhabi?

At ADEC, we are educated users and builders. We believe in good IEQ, so we push for it in our schools, which are the public schools. Private schools, on the other hand, are a challenge, because they are bottom-line driven. Some of them are more bottom-line driven than others… actually, they are all bottom linedriven, but some demand higher fees so they can afford to build better and more sustainable facilities. They also have, let’s say, discriminating users. Parents are well educated. Many are from Britain or the United States or other countries where IEQ issues are important. They see themselves as stakeholders, and so those schools are better built than a lot of the schools with lower fees, which only want to do the minimum that they can get away with. Pearl 1 is important in that perspective, because the prerequisites are already there, so the schools have to apply those.

I have also observed lack of awareness among consultants as well as among teachers, school operators and even among parents. And because they are not aware of the issues, they are not pushing for more attention to be given to IEQ, which is why I think, ultimately, lack of awareness is the challenge and greater awareness is the answer.

I’ve been looking at this for 35 years – all my professional life, in fact, and even back in my college years. My university thesis was sustainable community, which is why I say I’ve been in this business long before it was fashionable. I’ve seen the whole range. I remember when we first started talking about it in the United States, it was like: “No, we can’t do Green Schools. Green Schools cost money. They require too much money.” But really, they don’t. You just have to know how to do it right.

In fact, the change that happened in the UK and the United States, over the years, is because of awareness, because of the media and the attention it gave to Green Schools, and because of USGBC. The one thing that they are really good at is creating awareness. They really seem to know how to market Green Building. LEED, admittedly, has had its gaps, but because of USGBC and LEED, issues dealing with energy and IEQ and Green Buildings have become familiar and commonplace.

Speaking of energy and IEQ, many in the construction industry believe that it’s difficult to balance energy efficiency and IEQ requirements. Do you agree?

That’s not true. When they talk about IAQ, for example, they talk about the amount of ventilation. That is what they mean when they say you can’t have both; but the reality is, without increasing ventilation, you can get pretty good quality of air. The minimum rate indicated in ASHRAE standards is already high, so there’s no need to improve it to get good air quality. What you have to do is identify the risk. If the risk is CO2, then one way you can improve IAQ is to install CO2 monitors. We do that in our schools. You use the monitors, and only if the air quality goes down does the ventilation [system] kick in. So you’re not wasting energy, and most of the time, low air quality is not even an issue. The only time it may become an issue is, say, in an auditorium full beyond its capacity. Ventilation is designed for full capacity, but if the auditorium does become too full, you kick in a little bit more air. Actually, the system will automatically do that. That’s not a waste of energy.

Inefficient energy use happens because people don’t understand the logic of design standards and elements, and they just go after the points. The engineers think: “I don’t care. The client is paying for it. Put it in.” But really, they should care, because they’re dictating their client’s energy consumption. We need people who are going to ask questions and who are able to understand and say, “Okay, why did they put CO2 monitors as a point in Estidama?” We need those kinds of people, because they realise that we shouldn’t just be dumping air for no reason. Many in this country just thoughtlessly dump cold, conditioned air. It’s ridiculous. In fact, there should be a penalty for that. You should lose points for that, not gain points.

So, the short answer is no, there is no conflict between energy efficiency and IEQ requirements. Balance can be achieved.
With ADEC’s Future Schools Project, launched in 2008, Abu Dhabi is working towards building 100 schools by 2020. What do you hope to see happen by the time that project is completed?

I hope that everyone would buy into the IEQ issue, because it is a critical one. It is important that there’s awareness and that people buy into it instead of being forced to address it. The problem with forcing people to comply with regulations is that they will just go for points – just for the sake of getting the points, without realising the reasons behind them and how those standards are going to benefit them. For example, you will see thousands of bike racks even though there’s no need for bike racks, and all because of points. I mean, nobody is biking. So that’s a point there, but in most Arabic schools, nobody wants to be biking. Some of the Europeans might want to, but those facilities have to be localised, because people here drive a lot. Nobody wants their kids to be on the road. Let’s get real. Let’s spend the money where it’s needed. I mean, there are cheap points and people take them. So it’s really important to understand why we are doing what we are doing. Take energy points as another example. ADEC doesn’t need to go for energy points because of cost, because ADEC gets cheap energy, but as a country we don’t. We recognise that, and we recognise that though the bill may not be that expensive, the infrastructure and the costs incurred by the country are, so you have to reduce energy consumption and you have to reduce water consumption, because water is energy. We need to think of all of those things. Without understanding any of that, there’s no point.

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