Window Technology

Parents Look to Windows for Safety Options in Washoe County, Nevada

by Kurtis Suellentrop, vice president, marketing, Winco Window Company

Use of an innovative new window technology is making schools safer and more energy-efficient in Washoe County, Nevada.  Inspired by local law enforcement, the design of new elementary and middle schools, as well as retrofits of existing schools, now offers state-of-the-art security and peace of mind for parents.  The local police department worked together with the schools’ facility managers, architects, builders, and a window manufacturer to ensure that all schools within the school district would allow students to flourish in a safe and secure environment.

         When the Washoe County community approved a capital funding ballot initiative in 2016, nearly $800 million was invested in building new schools, as well as making needed improvements to existing ones.  At the design phase of the expansion plan, the school district became aware of a new window technology that was not yet on the market but in the final stages of development at the California Lighting Technology Center (CLTC). 

         An innovative study underway at CLTC involved the integration of dynamic windows, skylights, electric lighting, and HVAC controls to optimize daylight harvesting, maximizing both occupant comfort and energy efficiency.  Winco Window Company, a manufacturer of architectural and heavy commercial aluminum windows, played an active role in the multi-year research project.  The Washoe County School District (WCSD) planning team turned to Winco’s West Coast office for a brainstorming session. 

         One key feature of the new dynamic windows, now called Transira™ Prime Window, is the encapsulated automated shade system built between two windows.  Not only helpful for controlling daylighting and heat gain, but teachers can also lower the shades in an instant when lockdown protocols are needed, exactly the kind of window security that the WCSD and police department wanted.

Photo and cover photo courtesy of Winco Window Company

         In the event an intruder is on campus, he or she will be unable to see into the classroom, providing teachers with needed minutes to react to a code red situation.  Since these shades are integral to the window and in between two pieces of glass, nothing can obstruct the shades going down and the shades cannot go up until there is an administrative all clear.  Transira windows can also be integrated into a building management system, allowing the windows to automatically lower throughout the building.  If such a threat occurs, the security system is tripped and the entire building’s shades, including exterior windows and interior windows, all go down at once.  

         Three new schools recently opened in Washoe County, including Sky Ranch Middle School in Spanish Springs, Desert Skies Middle School in Sun Valley, and Nick Poulakidas Elementary School in South Reno.  The new buildings have up-to-date safety and security features, and also comply with the latest energy standards for lighting, HVAC systems, ground-source heat pumps, and windows.  Among numerous state-of-the-art technology features, all three schools share design similarities, including the single-point entry and Transira dynamic windows with built-in shades.

Photo courtesy of Vance Fox

         In the case of Nick Poulakidas Elementary School, it was the first building and school to be built with the newly developed Transira Prime Window Solution.  While Nick Poulakidas Elementary School was under construction, so was a larger new middle school that would also incorporate the new windows into its buildings.  Marce Herz Middle School opened in South Reno in August 2020 complete with the new Transira Window Solution that had proven so successful with the opening of Nick Poulakidas Elementary School a year earlier.

         During the CLTC study and window development, it was noted that the insulated thermal window with an automated, high-performance shade or blind built in between two panes of glass is extremely desirable for multiple other attributes.  It can significantly reduce heating and cooling loads through environmental-based automation or BMS integration.  It provides a significant boost in occupant comfort through daylight harvesting.  It also reduces temperature swings within the classrooms. 

         The Transira Window Solution is truly scalable.  It can consist of a simple stand-alone system with options from basic controls to fully automated, state-of-the-art functionality, to a more integrated system able to integrate with most building management systems.  For public buildings, the ability to integrate with the building’s security system or code red protocol is a game changer.

         The technical capabilities of the Transira Window Solution systems are very project-specific, delivering the capabilities needed in a way that makes sense for that particular building.  The building design of the Nick Poulakidas Elementary School includes multiple open spaces and learning studios for collaborative learning.  Per the teachers’ requests, they have the ability to control one side of the classroom separate from their class library so that they can take advantage of the natural light in the reading area, but not drown out the other students’ computer screens with glare. 

Photo courtesy of Vance Fox

         Considering that the shade is inaccessible between two pieces of glass, there’s no risk of it being damaged.  This is a plus for the maintenance crew.  First, shades or blinds do not require specialized cleaning.  It’s simply a matter of cleaning the smooth glass surface.  Second, at the end of the day the maintenance crew is able to put down the shades of the entire building with just the push of a button instead of having to go room-by-room to close the shades manually.  The final benefit of the built-in shades is that dust, germs, and allergens that tend to populate on fabric shades are not an issue.

         New installation is very cost-effective, considering that it includes both the fenestration and the window coverings.  This dual combination eliminates the need to coordinate contractors coming in after construction to install window coverings.  The shades are pre-installed into the window system prior to installation, which eases coordination efforts and improves timelines.

         There is also a retrofit version of these windows, the Transira Accessory Sash.  The unit simply plugs directly over the front of the existing window whether it’s a storefront, curtainwall, or punched window and gets fastened directly to the frame through the integrated wire chase.  After the unit is installed, the wire gets fished through and connected to the control panel.  It’s so efficient that two contractors can install these retrofits in less than five minutes, faster than the time it takes to install a new shade. 

         The WCSD used this retrofit version of the window at Sky Ranch Middle School in Spanish Springs, Michael Inskeep Elementary School in Cold Springs, and Desert Skies Middle School in Sun Valley.  Both of these middle schools are also newly built and opened at the same time as the Nick Poulakidas Elementary School.  All have similar design features and security protocols. 

Photo courtesy of Winco Window Company

         By planning for security in advance, the WCSD kept the aesthetics of the school inviting, and students don’t feel like they are studying in a high security environment.  According to the American Institute of Architects, security baked in from the beginning can help to prevent these stressors.  Michael Pinto, AIA, cites the redesign of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut as one such example of best practices.  “Since reopening in 2016, the school has become a national model for incorporating security features that aren’t noticeable unless you’re looking for them.”

         Just as the school administrators, the local police, parents, and teachers played a part in the construction of the new schools, the community will be heavily invested in what future schools will be like, especially in terms of technology, energy efficiency, and student and staff security.  Working on the expansion plan for the WCSD has provided the opportunity to go back to completed schools and collect feedback on what users like about the integrated window system and what improvements they would like moving forward. 

         Today, teachers in Washoe County are actively using the system.  The Transira shades give the buildings a very clean, upbeat aesthetic and improves the ability to interact with natural daylight in a seamless, unobtrusive way.  With the added security benefit, both teachers and staff can look forward to a productive future.  

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