Constructing college, university buildings wisely: Fire and life safety

Engineering mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP), and fire protection systems in colleges and universities requires designers to look toward the future of postsecondary education, and consider all aspects of a building and its occupants.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer December 29, 2015


Aravind Batra, PE, LC, LEED AP, Principal, P2S Engineering Inc., Long Beach, Calif.

Craig Buck, PE, LEED AP, Associate, RMF Engineering, Charleston, S.C.

Jeffrey R. Crawford, PE, LEED AP, CCS, Vice President, Director of Higher Education & Research Market, Ross & Baruzzini Inc., St. Louis

Andre M. Hebert, PE, BEMP, LEED AP BD+C, Principal, Senior Mechanical Engineer, EYP Architecture & Engineering, Boston

Sergiu Pelau, PE, LEED AP, Principal, Syska Hennessy Group, New York City

Scott Robbins, PE, CEM, LEED AP BD+C, Senior Vice President, WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff Boston

CSE: What unique fire-suppression systems have you specified in college/university buildings?

Batra: We have specified dry-type fire-suppression systems for data centers, and dual-action fire-sprinkler systems.

CSE: Describe any unusual detection, suppression, and notification systems you’ve specified in college/university projects. What drove the design?

Buck: Beam detectors are traditionally the method used for smoke detection in atriums, but they are susceptible to building movement and prone to false alarms due to sunlight, dust, condensation, and object intrusion. With all the events that are required to happen in the sequence of operation of a smoke-exhaust system, a false alarm is more than just a nuisance. To eliminate false alarms in college/university projects, RMF has used an open-area smoke-imaging detection system in lieu of the traditional beam detection. This system consists of an imager, a camera-like device with a wide field of view, and an emitter aligned on the opposite wall within the atrium. The emitter sends both infrared and UV light to the imager. The use of the two technologies enables the device to discriminate between real smoke and dust, condensation, and other objects, reducing false alarms. At the Clemson Watt Family Innovation Center, RMF used the same open-area smoke-imaging detection and was able to place the devices at an angle across the space. Because it’s important to have access to the emitter, it was placed at 12 ft above the finish floor. The imager does not require much access, if any, and was placed within 18 in. of the ceiling. The lower elevation can now be accessed with a ladder rather than a scissor lift.

Batra: We have specified a complete addressable fire alarm and detection system with a speaker-notification system that provides the college the ability to use it for both emergency notifications and as a notification device for the fire alarm system. This design was driven by the college requiring the ability to send emergency notifications without having to invest in a separate public address system.

CSE: Describe unique security and access-control systems you have specified on college/university projects.

Batra: Unique security and access-control systems include Internet protocol (IP) cameras, card readers for access, and sensors at windows to alert the public about safety issues at the campus. The system also includes a video-based system that has the ability to record events for viewing by the public safety department.

CSE: What types of fire/life safety systems have you designed for high-rise college/university structures? Discuss elevator evacuation, refuge floors, etc.

Batra: The fire/life safety systems that we have designed for high-rises include an automatic smoke-detection system with notification systems that included speakers and strobes. The design also included an elevator-recall feature that incorporates smoke detectors at each of the lobbies and a recall system that recalls the elevator to the ground floor should there be fire on any of the upper floors. It recalls the same elevator to an alternate floor designated by the fire department should there be fire on the ground floor.