HISD Direct Digital Control team keeps HVAC systems going

When the air conditioning at Atherton Elementary School was running after hours, Direct Digital Control Field Technician Dustin Agnew headed to the campus to find out why.   

Agnew first checked the master control panel and the variable-frequency drives, making sure everything was set to “auto.” He then went outside to inspect the chillers and quickly found the problem — both were running, but only one was supposed to be on.  

“I enjoy figuring out what’s wrong, because it could be so many different elements,” he said. 

Agnew is a part of the district’s Direct Digital Control team, which was established in 1996 as part of the Energy & Sustainability department. The team is responsible for monitoring and repairing heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems as well as certain lighting systems across the district.  

The department’s four monitoring specialists run scans at 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. to ensure school temperatures are comfortable. If issues arise, they create work orders and dispatch one of their 12 field technicians to the campus in question. They also answer phone calls and assist technicians remotely. 

Energy & Sustainability Senior Manager Kirby Williams said without these proactive scans, they would have to rely on staff to arrive at the campus and call Customer Care for a ticket to be created.  

“By the time that ticket gets to the technician, he or she has to deal with traffic and may not get to the campus until after students and staff have arrived,” Williams said. “DDC allows us to get a technician out on campus before staff arrives.” 

At Atherton, Agnew and three fellow field technicians climbed the stairs to look at the air handling units on the second floor.  

The team huddled among stacks of air filters, using their laptops to turn off each unit and then confirm it had stopped running. One unit did not stop, so the team set it back to “auto,” completing their task. 

“It feels great to get a school off the list,” Maintenance Team Leader Ruben Diosdado said. “It’s a significant accomplishment.”