Mastering a Plan for the University

The university functions as a self-contained community, and like the planners of towns and cities, administrators must look as far down the road as they can to anticipate future needs. In the past, universities focused on architectural master plans to guide campus development, but since the early 1990s, campus planners have realized that a key to the success of an overall plan is utility master...


The university functions as a self-contained community, and like the planners of towns and cities, administrators must look as far down the road as they can to anticipate future needs. In the past, universities focused on architectural master plans to guide campus development, but since the early 1990s, campus planners have realized that a key to the success of an overall plan is utility master planning.

With increased electrical and HVAC loads, a greater need for outside air, and increasing communications network requirements, administrators are striving to overcome their natural shyness for pre-investment in utility systems and consider the potential savings produced by long-term planning for utility infrastructure.

Savvy engineering firms, like Carter & Burgess, have been taking advantage of this trend for several years now. "Our interest in utility master planning goes back to 1995, when our group was founded," says Scott Clark, P.E., CEM, vice president of the national firm's Energy and Power Solutions Group. "Recently, however, it has grown in prominence. Some of the driving factors in recent interest are college campuses experiencing rapid growth, technological advancements and aging equipment."

In fact, about 78% of all college and university buildings were constructed before 1980, with a median construction year of 1967, according to Carter & Burgess. What this means is that equipment installed in the '50s, '60s and '70s is reaching the end of its useful life and will need to be replaced with newer, more efficient technology.

As for the subject of rapid growth, that description may be an understatement. The U.S. Dept. of Education predicts that college enrollment will reach 17 million by 2011—a 16% increase from 2001. This will likely mean that a growing percentage of university budgets will be spent on infrastructure-related improvements.

The LEED factor

Also confronted with volatile energy prices, university administrators are hoping long-term planning can provide the flexibility and adaptability that will make them better prepared for this anticipated growth, which is already beginning to manifest itself (see "Graduate Degree Dorms, p. 40). According to Glenn Jardine, P.E., vice president with Heery International, Atlanta, two decades ago energy prices were a huge concern, leading to an interest in energy conservation.

Jardine, who has been working on utility master planning for universities for more than 20 years, notes that today the concern has been renewed, but with a growing interest in life-cycle costs. This is where utility master planning helps. However, the process has been further affected by the whole green building movement. "The LEED impact is big. A lot of university clients are putting LEED certification in their prerequisites," Jardine says. In fact, he adds, the LEED program has given university CFOs grounds for bringing up the energy conservation issue.

The U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program has become the benchmark by which facilities judge their level of energy efficiency and sustainability—even when they aren't necessarily going for LEED certification.

As is the case for all projects aiming for such certification, it comes down to weighing first cost against long-term costs. "Most universities wouldn't go for a platinum LEED certification, but shooting for silver or gold would probably deliver the return that one wants," says Carter & Burgess' Clark.

A focus on LEED certification unearths another trend in current utility master planning programs: the growing interest in commissioning. "Administrators are not only attracted to commissioning programs to get the system right, but LEED certification and the new energy code will also require it," says David Pope, P.E., CEM, senior mechanical engineer with Heery. However, according to Pope's colleague Joe Gottardy, P.E., CEM, it should be noted that in all LEED projects, commissioning is one of the more costly points for certification.

Engineering firms like Heery and Carter & Burgess have the ability to provide commissioning. Heery will usually do so on projects where the firm functions as program manager. However, on projects where it provides master planning studies, Heery is likely to turn to an outside consultant.

A coordinated effort

The whole notion of master planning has a long history in the university environment. Academic master planning has been around since time immemorial, but an effective educational master plan depends on a long-range and comprehensive physical plan—something that is new to many administrators.

And university officials are realizing that the utility master plan is not something that happens after the architectural master plan has been decided. It used to be the complaint that much effort went into funding, siting and designing new buildings—but not how to heat, cool and power these buildings. But these days, utility systems are being considered as an integral part of the overall campus plan.

"Typically, there are two camps in a university," Clark says. "The utility planning group looks at the physical space use. Then, there is the director of the physical plant who looks at utilities. Traditionally, the planning folks do the architectural master plan, and then the director of the physical plant would get involved. Nowadays, the latter does a utility master plan that mates up with the architectural master plan. Both sides challenge each other."

Others, however, still point out that utility master planning depends on the architectural master plan. "The utility master plan is usually an add-on," Jardine says.

But utility master plans can encompass a wide variety of time frames. Heery, for example, developed a utility master plan for the University of Georgia in the '90s that was a five-year plan. "The utility master plan that we did for Georgia was able to hold its own," says Jardine. "But a 10- to 15-year plan would be more typical."

And some university facility planners are looking even 30 years into the future (see "Energy Self-Sufficiency," p.34). Clark discounts the notion that university administrators are paralyzed by fear of pre-investment, an obstacle to long-term planning. "Most of these administrators are VPs of finance," he suggests. "They understand dollars. They understand that it's pretty easy to make plants expandable. It used to seem like universities were recession-proof. But tax revenues are way down, and this is affecting them."

But the fact remains that in the post-dot-com bubble era—when many universities heavily invested in the Nasdaq—the last few years of recession have taken a toll on school budgets. Public institutions have fewer tax dollars and private schools are struggling with fewer donations for capital projects.

"I see more and more campuses planning in smaller bites," says Heery's Pope. "This is frequently driven by a need for a single new building and leads to a satellite arrangement for utility infrastructure. Most of these campuses have master plans in place, but growth is outstripping their expectations, and they have to resort to a satellite configuration."

Driving technology

One can't point to a single factor driving the interest in utility master planning. It's all interrelated. Administrators are aware that they need to plan for long-term energy conservation, and that it can be accomplished with state-of-the-art technology available today. "Administrators and designers know that facilities need to make their energy delivery systems flexible with respect to load shape and fuel choice," Clark says.

There seems to be a general agreement among consulting engineers that university administrators are at least interested in newer, energy-efficient technologies: "Cogen and thermal energy storage are being pushed, and there's a quick payback on thermal energy storage systems," says Clark. "The economics for cogen can be more difficult, especially in regions like the Midwest. California or the Northeast make much more sense for cogen. We've installed a TES and cogen operation at Princeton that has been successful. The TES runs fully loaded at night."

Building automation systems are definitely included in the utility master plan these days, as is central power metering. "Effective energy supply and distribution means having the right information. One doesn't want to meter just for the sake of metering. Engineers and owners need to be deliberate, and to know what we are going to use the information for," Clark says.

All of the issues that can affect mechanical and electrical design in general come into play in formulating the utility master plan for a university—environmental impact issues, for example, as permitting can be a major issue.

Mold is another hot button. "A university's hazardous materials guy I know, who used to deal mostly with asbestos, now spends all his time on mold," says Gottardy. "From the design side, if we address the mold issue in commissioning, then we have covered this base."

Another consideration is that there are simply more players at the table. There has been a trend toward outsourcing of maintenance services by universities, and these outside contractors must be brought into planning sessions.

"Utility master planning has evolved into a more formal process," says Juan Ontiveros, director of utilities and energy management at the University of Texas at Austin. "In the past, it wasn't so much a focus, but nowadays, larger dollar impacts mean a greater need for master planning."

No matter what form utility master planning takes, volatile energy prices, more players and increasingly complex technology mean that the importance of the utility master planning process can only grow.

UNC at Chapel Hill: An Ambitious Plan

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is one university that is using utility master planning to keep pace with the future. The university plans to add 5.8 million sq. ft. of campus space to its existing 13 million sq. ft. To support this growth, it has embarked on a decade-long, multi-million dollar infrastructure improvement program.

Forth Worth, Texas-based Carter & Burgess provided the preliminary engineering and planning services to develop a utility master plan that would focus on making the best use of existing systems while developing a cost effective growth strategy.

"We created an energy model simulating what will happen on campus over time," says Scott Clark, P.E., CEM, vice president of the A/E firm's Energy and Power Solutions Group. "We simulated snapshots of 5-, 10- and 15-year needs and were able to define the requirements for each of these projections. The next step was an analysis of the distribution system. The final step was to create a Gaant chart with a database to know when projects need to be done."

Planners developed a dynamic model for each utility system to determine potential problem areas in production and distribution as the campus master plan was implemented.

Carter & Burgess engineers were also involved in making the plan a reality by providing design services for some of the new utilities; they designed a $20 million, 400,000 lb./hr. boiler plant and 4,000 ft. of walkable utility tunnel.

An interesting sidenote on this particular project concerns preserving the past while planning for the future. Scott explains: "The university is one of the oldest campuses in the United States. Historic preservation is a definite priority. The boiler that we are installing will have a stack, but there are many possible architectural treatments to assure that it blends with the campus. Sometimes, projects are budgeted for this type of thing."

Energy Self-Sufficiency

The University of Texas at Austin is a self-sufficient energy producer. The campus generates its own electricity, heating and cooling. "This kind of energy self-sufficiency is pretty atypical," says Scott Clark, P.E., CEM, of Carter & Burgess. "Not many institutions have the ability to generate 100% of their power, and the university still relies on the local utility as a backup. Between 30% and 60% is more typical. Princeton University, for example, generates about 50% of its power, with the other half from the utility."

But university administrators and their planning consultants know that campus growth will eventually outstrip generating capacity. Projected energy shortfalls based on current capacity, as well as the fact that existing systems are reaching the end of their service life, have led the university to take a look at its energy needs through the year 2030.

Planners determined that the school should expand its electrical capacity and replace the primary power plant cooling tower. Carter & Burgess conducted a comprehensive study on the impact of adding a 25-megawatt (MW) steam turbine to the power system, as well as the effect of replacing the cooling tower.

The cogeneration facility consists of a total installed capacity of 85-MW and also supplies the campus with steam, compressed air and demineralized water.

Over a 20-year period, the net present value savings would be greater than $19 million. And the university could possibly sell its extra power through the power grid, under Texas' retail power deregulation.

"These projects will position the university extremely well to support the electrical loads and reliability needs for the foreseeable future," says Juan Ontiveros, facilities director at the university. "The campus is excited about the prospect of having these projects on-line as quickly as they have progressed."

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