The Ohio School Facilities Commission (“OSFC”) recently amended the Ohio School Design Manual to provide for solar-ready schools. Resolution No. 08-164, adopted November 20, 2008, updates the 2008 Ohio School Design Manual to include standards for solar-ready equipment in school buildings. The OSFC defines “solar-ready” as capable of accommodating the eventual installation of rooftop solar photovoltaic energy equipment.

The recent addendum to the Ohio School Design Manual includes new guidelines for roof space and shading requirements, structural requirements, electrical system access, and building mapping and orientation. Among other things, the new amendments provide:

The designer shall designate areas on the roof plan that are suitable for future solar photovoltaic installation where the roof area remains free of shade from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm solar time every day. No obstructions shall exist on the roof within the designated solar area.

The addendum also indicates that new school rooftops, “should be designed to anticipate a future additional dead load in areas suitable for solar photovoltaic installation.” Finally, the amendments provide that the OSFC can waive the solar-readiness provisions if a school building is shaded, or if other conditions exist which make the roof area impractical for solar energy production.

The resolution and amendments to the 2008 Ohio School Design Manual are a continuation of Green Strategies Client Bulletin No. 01-21 Green Strategies Client Bulletin OSFC’s ongoing efforts to provide guidelines for school districts in the alternative energy arena. At its meeting held on June 26, 2008, the OSFC approved another Ohio School Design Manual update and elected to use the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (“Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design”) for Schools rating system. The LEED system is recognized as the national benchmark for green buildings. LEED certified buildings use resources more efficiently than conventional buildings do in order to reduce the impact on the environment and improve overall working conditions.

The OSFC administers Ohio’s kindergarten through 12th grade public school construction programs. It aids districts in funding, designing, and building or renovating schools. Thus, it takes a keen interest in improving a school’s energy efficiency and a sustainable design. According to Michael C. Shoemaker, the OSFC’s Executive Director, “The LEED criteria have been shown to have a positive effect on student health, attendance, and performance. While the state is sharing in the cost of the upfront construction, the benefits of these green schools – including energy savings – stay in the school districts participating in our programs.” In short, green schools promote a healthier learning environment for the following reasons:

  • Natural light and outside views increase a child’s attention span
  • Good indoor air quality improves health
  • Improved acoustics increases learning potential
  • Moisture and mold prevention decreases illness
  • Balanced indoor temperatures increases comfort and a student’s ability to concentrate

In adopting the LEED Green Building rating system, the OSFC now requires that schools in districts approved for funding after September 2007 must meet LEED Silver Certification, though they are strongly encouraged to meet LEED Gold standards. Out of 69 possible points, Silver Certification requires between 33 and 38 points while Gold Certification calls for between 39 and 51 points. Furthermore, a heavy emphasis has been placed on attaining the majority of the 17 LEED points in the Energy and Atmosphere category. Solar panels, by using renewable energy from the sun through environmentally friendly means, would clearly facilitate this.

During the legislative process, State Representative Lou Blessing, a Cincinnati Republican, requested that approximately 2,000 school rooftops (approximately half of the public schools in Ohio) be fitted with solar panels. Though the project would cost around $6 billion, Ohio legislators estimate that lower energy bills will counter this expense. LEED certified buildings generally do cost more to construct, but it has been shown that savings incurred over time caused by lower operational costs and employee productivity gains more than make up for the difference in price.

The OSFC’s decision to include guidelines for solar panel installation in the 2008 Design Manual compliment and support the LEED standards and should help to further insulate schools from rising energy costs. In Resolution 08-164, the Commission authorized and directed the Executive Director to finalize standards for solar ready equipment in school buildings with administrative rules on the subject. When completed, the rules will be presented to the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review for approval