The challenges and opportunities for lighting design in educational facilities are plentiful. By and large, the majority of existing school buildings in the U.S. were designed according to functional and financial requirements. It was very rare that the lighting held a high priority. Many of these existing educational buildings across the U.S. are in need of lighting systems renovations, to provide teachers and students with an enhanced, stimulating visual environment, and to consume less energy.
In addition, upgraded and new lighting system design must address the needs of present and future trends in teaching and learning styles, and the wide array of electronic technology that has been introduced into the education process. Students are no longer passive consumers of information, but active producers who can add meaning and value to the information. Good lighting design creates a learning environment that encourages students to be “knowledge workers” and interact, not only with each other, but with others in their communities and around the world.
Lighting has always been an important component of educational facilities. In the first half of the 20th century, natural light was the dominant method for illuminating school rooms. Large windows were obviously a key design element.
Given the ever-present reality of energy costs and codes, design standards for educational facility design and energy and environmental management, school administrators and planners have developed a new understanding of the psychological and physiological benefits of combining natural and electric light in new and rehabbed school buildings. This is made possible due to recent advances in energy efficient lighting systems, energy efficient windows and skylights and automated control systems that bring the two lighting methods into sync with one another.
School administrators and planners are giving a lot of attention to the design of “high-performance schools”; these are sustainable facilities that improve the learning environment while saving energy, resources, and money. While it is possible for good teachers and motivated students to perform at a high level almost anywhere, a well-designed facility can truly enhance performance and make education a more enjoyable and rewarding experience. School buildings that are comfortable, well-ventilated, well-lit, and safe will promote higher levels of academic achievement than buildings without such characteristics. In addition, they promote student, teacher, and staff health, so absenteeism is reduced.
Creating a high-performance school is not difficult, but it requires an integrated, "whole building" approach to the design process. Key systems and technologies must be considered together, from the beginning of the design process, and optimized based on their combined impact on the comfort and productivity of students and teachers.
Many schools want to adopt “green” strategies, implementing energy efficient technologies and processes to save natural resources, reduce waste and protect the earth. The challenge facing most school districts and boards of education is how to do this when funding is limited. Every year they have to make tough choices between teachers and educational programs, and renovating facilities to create quality learning environments and more energy-efficient schools.
One way to accomplish this goal is performance contracting, or investing in energy efficiency upgrades and using the energy and operational savings from those upgrades to offset their cost and pay for other improvements. Local utility incentive programs and Federal tax incentive and rebate programs may also be available to help reduce the financial investment in new energy efficient systems.