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HVAC Readiness: A Case Study in Denver Public Schools Facilities Ventilation Upgrades

Jun 25, 2021

Featured in this article is a downloadable whitepaper outlining the work U.S. Engineering Construction completed with our partners at Denver Public Schools and McKinstry. Our scope included updating and adjusting ventilation systems to meet new guidelines reflecting safety measures created to maximize protections against COVID-19.

The Denver Public Schools (DPS) Operations team has worked throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to maintain all DPS buildings and to implement extensive safety measures in facilities across the district. These measures include a $5 million district-wide investment in HVAC systems, improved filtration, air ventilation and ventilation controls.

DPS, in partnership with McKinstry and U.S. Engineering Construction, set out to assess and repair heating, cooling and ventilation equipment, to increase filtration, to increase outside air flow and to adjust HVAC controls to meet new requirements. DPS, McKinstry and U.S. Engineering teams performed work in 177 DPS facilities over a four-month period.

The teams composed a free downloadable whitepaper, “HVAC Readiness: A Case Study in Denver Public Schools,” that details the project scope, our project partners’ roles and responsibilities, the approach we took and the lessons we learned. We think “HVAC Readiness” may be useful to other building owners attempting to overhaul their heating, cooling and ventilation systems to meet new, post-pandemic requirements. The whitepaper also may be useful to those interested in the technical aspects of our work, those who would like to see specific examples of the work, and those seeking to revise workflows according to new guidelines in post-COVID environments.

Three keys to success on this massive endeavor were clear communication, strong partnerships and our use of the commissioning process.

1. Communication

One of the challenges of this project, in addition to the large scope, was that the science on COVID-19 developed in real time, in public view (as opposed to processes occurring over years in labs behind closed doors). As more scientific information became available, the CDC, ASHRAE and other health-related governing institutions changed recommendations. Indoor air quality moved to the front of the line of concerns. So communication between the DPS, McKinstry and U.S. Engineering teams was critical. We all adapted as necessary to complete the job with safety at the top of our minds.

Verbal communication in the form of daily meetings and focus on rapid decision making was a key to success. Calls to owner for troubleshooting HVAC and BAS resolved issues quickly. We used BIM 360 as a central software platform for communicating the status of issues to the team. And we used Procore to manage documents in a central location (drawings, photos, progress reports). Clear communication on large projects such as this one relies on embracing adaptability and fostering relationships.

2. Strong Partnerships

The strong partnerships DPS forged with both U.S. Engineering and McKinstry were critical factors in quickly building a skilled team, determining roles and responsibilities and meeting project goals in a very short time frame. Building relationships with DPS facilities personnel and managers allowed everyone involved to work with confidence. Facilities managers possessed extensive knowledge of their buildings and were the primary points of contact for understanding changes in building occupancy and use. Personnel were highly coordinated and very responsive to access and scheduling questions. Prioritizing strong partnerships and clear communication kept us on schedule throughout this project.

3. Using the Commissioning (Cx) Process

Performing remote assessments allowed McKinstry to rapidly deploy a large number of Cx engineering resources from around the country. The first assessments were started—in multiple offices around the U.S.—within hours of initial conversations with the client. Remote BAS functional testing provided a detailed list of equipment to inspect for possible repairs. Creating a repair list early in the project allowed U.S. Engineering to deploy resources quickly. And finally, the Cx process saved significant time in the field. Repairs and verification focused on specific equipment and issues instead of inspecting all equipment on-site.

In a large project like this one, consisting of a significantly wide scope and a giant mechanism of moving parts, everyone involved is presented with opportunities for growth. We offer this whitepaper to those who may be faced with similar tasks of updating ventilation systems as our communities send students back to school. Hopefully these lessons learned can help improve future endeavors with similar scope.

Thank you to the teams at DPS, McKinstry and U.S. Engineering for contributing to and creating “HVAC Readiness.” In particular, thank you to DPS’s Heather Bock, McKinstry’s Erik Greensfelder and Karen Johnson and U.S. Engineering’s Greg Italiano, Sr., Tom Poeling and Jason Schneider for authoring and compiling the report. Thanks also to U.S. Engineering’s Victoria Palmer for statistical data analysis and Diana Murphy and Monte Holman for editorial production.

Greg Italiano, Sr.
Project Superintendent
U.S. Engineering Construction


Greg is a Project Superintendent who has been with U.S. Engineering for 14 of his 43-year career in the industry. A Colorado Master Plumber, he has been ICC certified in mechanical and plumbing. He has been involved in all phases of mechanical construction and service over the years as a superintendent and project manager.

Tom Poeling
Project Support Director
U.S. Engineering Construction


Tom has over 25 years of industry experience with a background in energy efficiency and building commissioning. His passion to deliver high-performance buildings manifests through the delivery of the company’s quality assurance program. Tom is a Professional Engineer, a Certified Energy Manager and a Certified Commissioning Professional. In 2019, he served as president of the Building Commissioning Association, a nationwide trade organization with a mission to create functional and efficient buildings.

Jason Schneider
Director of Operations
U.S. Engineering Construction


Jason an Operations Director in U.S. Engineering Construction’s Rocky Mountain region. He holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Iowa State University and a Professional Engineer license in Colorado. With over 15 years of experience in the industry, Jason manages a team of talented project managers and engineers that executes various retrofit, renovation and new construction work with an emphasis on design-build and mechanical prime projects.

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