Academic Center schools in electrical distribution

What if the intent of a green building on a university campus is to be a model for more sustainable design, meaning the physical structure itself becomes a means of learning for both students and scholars alike?

By Consulting Specifying Engineer Staff May 1, 2008

What if the intent of a green building on a university campus is to be a model for more sustainable design, meaning the physical structure itself becomes a means of learning for both students and scholars alike?

That was the challenge facing KJWW Engineering Consultants’ branch in Rock Island, Ill., when designing the electrical distribution system of the Harm A. Weber Academic Center on the campus of Judson University in Elgin, Ill. The building opened in time for the fall 2007 semester, with green features that include natural ventilation design, extensive daylighting, and a photovoltaic system that reduces grid power usage.

As of early 2008, the university was striving toward USGBC LEED NC Gold certification, which is expected to be achieved by fall 2008. Additionally, KJWW was honored for its work on the project with this magazine’s ARC Silver award in New Construction (see ARC Awards coverage ).

Unique building design

At 88,000 sq. ft, the Weber Academic Center is the biggest building on the Judson University campus. It houses the School of Art, Design, and Architecture; the university library; 20 faculty offices; an administrative suite; and a host of studios and classrooms. It is roughly divided into three separate areas:

  • The block element, including the library and studios

  • The bowtie element, a four-story area made up of classrooms

  • The bar element, made up of studios and offices.

A sustainable design can encompass many things. In the Weber Academic Center’s case, that included substantial window glazing and a 4-ft-thick wall cavity that simultaneously reduces solar heat gain and allows in abundant natural light. Photosensors strategically placed throughout the facility turn artificial lights off when there is enough natural light.

Project manager Wade Ross, senior engineer at KJWW, knew that designing an appropriate electrical distribution system to adequately support the Weber Academic Center’s sustainability goals would take a fair amount of research.

The premise of a natural ventilation system at the Academic Center is simple. Cool air is drawn in at separate points in the lowest level of all three areas of the complex, which then rises naturally due to warming, traveling a path throughout the building before being exhausted on the roof in a stack effect. However, seasonal extremes play a role in the design. For example, in the middle of winter or summer, warm and cool air, respectively, is recycled rather than exhausted. That means fans at the lower levels that draw in air from the outside don’t have to run as often. KJWW specified 15 and 20 hp Square D Class 8839 Econo-Flex variable frequency drives for this purpose, which create energy savings by varying the speed of the motors powering the fans, based on the season.

A key component of many sustainable buildings is the use of solar power, and the Weber Academic Center is no exception. Photovoltaic panels located on the south exterior of the building draw in sunlight, which initially becomes dc power but is then changed to 208 V ac power via an inverter. From there, a Square D 30 kVA step-up transformer increases the voltage from 208 to 480 V so it can be distributed throughout the building via the Square D QED Power-Style switchboard. Other distribution tools include the Square D PowerPact 1,200 A main circuit breaker, Square D PowerLogic PM-820 power meter, multiple Square D NQOD, and NF panelboards located throughout the facility. According to KJWW engineer John McGonegle, KJWW predicts the photovoltaic system will produce 5,679 kWh per year, or 0.6% of the building’s total electrical use. McGonegle adds the compounded savings by reducing grid power over the years will be substantial.

Making it work

Ross says the physical task of designing an appropriate electrical distribution system for a sustainable facility like the Weber Academic Center to meet customer requirements and those of LEED and ASHRAE 90.1 is really only half the challenge. The other half is the collective product choices that are made.

“One of the LEED credits that we knew we were going after early on in the Weber Academic Center project was for measurement and verification,” Ross said, referring to the Energy & Atmosphere component of LEED NC. “This requires you to look at all energy aspects of the building, measure it, and compare it to projections in order to verify that you are getting the energy efficiency that you would expect. That was one of the things that we had to keep in mind as we were designing.”

Ross says this will be achieved by comparing energy use expectations done through modeling during the design phase to actual energy usage data gathered from its power meters after the Weber Academic Center has reached its one-year anniversary. That comparison should be complete by late summer 2008, he said.

Ross said long-term reliability is another important criterion when specifying products for a project like the Weber Academic Center, because customers like Judson University naturally want to avoid downtime, power outages, and increased costs as much as possible. Though the ultimate product choice is made by the electrical contractor—in this case, Kellenberger Electric, Elgin, Ill.—based on KJWW’s specifications, Ross said a manufacturer’s product will not be specified without a recognized history of reliable performance in other projects.

“Our reputation is based on the reputations of all the products that we specify,” he said. “We want products that are energy-efficient and reliable, but we also have an expectation that a supplier will assist and make sure we get the product that best suits the project’s needs.”

McGonegle said that support can include a number of things, including availability of MASTERSPEC product specification files from Architectural Computer Services Inc. For example, Schneider Electric hosts MASTERSPEC files and CAD drawings of its products at , which McGonegle said is helpful for quick access at odd hours. Another is the willingness of the manufacturer to review and approve KJWW’s own master specification files, which it primarily uses when designing an electrical distribution system like that of the Weber Academic Center. Yet another is the availability of manufacturer representatives to assist in the design phase if an impasse is reached and it involves that manufacturer’s product.

Future impact

The Weber Academic Center may be Judson University’s crown jewel, but school administration realizes that its impact will be felt well beyond the 2007-08 school year.

“All of our architectural students will be going through this building to learn how it affects, or does not affect, the environment,” said Dr. Jerry Cain, university president. “Our students will be learning the pragmatic side of green architecture. They are in a building that does just that. It’s a living lab for our students, but our secondary goal is to make it a teaching center for other architects and teachers.”

Information provided by Schneider Electric North American Operating Division, Palatine, Ill.


The Harm A. Weber Academic Center at Judson University, Elgin, Ill., is one of the most sustainable schools in the United States—due to a natural ventilation, daylighting controls, and a photovoltaic system that reduces grid power usage.

Schneider Electric’s North American Operating Division, best known for its Square D brand of electrical distribution equipment, is instrumental in the electrical distribution process of solar power. The building uses photovoltaic-sourced ac power. A Square D 30 kVA step-up transformer increases the voltage to 480 V so it is distributed throughout the building via the Square D QED Power-Style switchboard.