Constructing college, university buildings wisely

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 23, 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: Please describe a recent college/university project you’ve worked on.

Aravind Batra: The recent project we worked on involved a new student union building (Aztec Center) at San Diego State University that achieved U.S. Green Building Council LEED Platinum certification. The building included meeting centers, retail spaces, student support centers, ballrooms, theaters, and offices. The team included CannonDesign as the architect and P2S Engineering as the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) and technology engineer. The design included a number of sustainable elements including radiant cooling and heating systems, energy-efficient lighting and occupancy and daylight controls, rainwater harvesting, and high-efficiency toilets.

Craig Buck: RMF was recently involved in designing a new 66,000-sq-ft facility at Clemson University called the Watt Family Innovation Center. The building was designed with group collaboration and flexibility in mind, using a raised-access floor system with demountable wall partitions. There is a large atrium across the front length with a large LED media mesh screen across the front exterior. The LED media mesh screen is 210×24 ft with LEDs on 4-in. centers. The building includes innovative technology and connectivity to other areas on campus as well as the ability to share information with other groups across the globe. The design team includes RMF Engineering Inc. (MEP engineer), Perkins + Will (architect), 4SE (structural engineer), Dutton Engineering (civil engineer), DataCom Design Group (IT/security), BrightTree Studios (AV), and Turner Construction (construction manager).

Jeffrey R. Crawford: Ross & Baruzzini recently completed design of mechanical, plumbing, fire protection, and audio/video (AV) systems for a $40 million reconstruction and renovation of the Lafferre Hall Engineering Complex at the University of Missouri in Columbia. The project included the demolition and reconstruction of roughly 51,000 sq ft of engineering laboratory and laboratory support space and the renovation of approximately 68,000 sq ft of classroom and office space, as well as mechanical infrastructure upgrades to other areas in the complex that includes building additions ranging from the year 1892 to 2009. The project will create highly flexible state-of-the-art laboratories and classrooms to support a wide variety of research and teaching activities and equipment. Numerous sustainable features were incorporated into the design, and technology is a critical feature in the classrooms to facilitate student group interactions with faculty and entities outside the building complex. The design team included Treanor Architects (lead architect), Peckham & Wright Architects (architect of record), Antella Engineering (electrical engineer), Structural Engineering Associates (civil engineer), and Tarlton Corp. (construction manager).

Andre M. Hebert: The Steidle Building Renewal at Pennsylvania State University in State College consisted of a total renovation and addition to the 1931 Steidle Building to house the Department of Material Science and Engineering. When completed in spring 2016, the project will encompass 105,000 gross sq ft of research and teaching labs, offices, classrooms, meeting rooms, and collaboration spaces. The labs include 79 high-performance fume hoods and other specialized ventilation systems to support the research and teaching mission. EYP was responsible for all architectural and MEP design.

Sergiu Pelau: We’ve recently completed Cornell Gates Hall building in Ithaca, N.Y., providing MEP, high-performance building design services, and architectural lighting design services. The building is approximately 100,000 sq ft, and its primary focus was to consolidate the Departments of Computer Science and Information Science (CIS) together in one facility. The building comprises computer classrooms, computer laboratories, offices, an auditorium, and collaboration spaces. It features convenient workspaces organized around an open atrium space encompassing four levels, and a covered entry plaza providing a space for social interaction outside. The building architecture was designed by Morphosis and built by Welliver. The design team also included structural, civil, IT/AV, acoustical, sustainability and code consultants.

Scott Robbins: One of the more interesting projects currently in construction is a major renovation to a Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The building opened more than 50 yr ago. It was in need of major MEP systems and architectural upgrades. Due to the unique translucent-marble-panel exterior skin, special HVAC systems are necessary to minimize condensation issues at the façade while maintaining required humidity levels for the six-story book-stack glass enclosure within the building. It requires special air-handling units (AHUs) and well-thought-out location of air distribution within the space.

CSE: What business development techniques are you using to gain such clients and/or projects?

Batra: The techniques we use to gain such clients include highlighting our extensive experience in the education sector, our sustainable design experience, promoting our organization in the various professional organizations that our personnel attend to enhance their technical knowledge, availing networking opportunities at the various conferences we attend throughout the year, and offering excellent service and innovative technical solutions to our clients.

Pelau: This was our second building we’ve designed in collaboration with Morphosis after the New Cooper Union building in New York City, which was a challenging, fun, and successful project. As a result, we’ve developed a close relationship with them, and Morphosis also opened its New York office during this time. When this new opportunity came along, we’ve teamed to pursue it. From my perspective, we are winning most of the new projects based on our past experience with our clients by exceeding their expectations and ensuring they are successful.

Robbins: There are no special business development techniques involved in gaining or sustaining clients. Communication is the key. As engineers, we should enhance the project without getting in the way of the client and architect’s vision. By reviewing multiple systems options, we can work with clients to choose the best solutions for their needs.

CSE: How have the characteristics of college/university projects changed in recent years, and what should engineers expect to see in the near future?

Pelau: Trends that we see in higher education facilities are active learning; virtual classrooms; increased focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM); and collaborative public spaces. We’ve noticed that university staffs have become much more involved in the design process and more knowledgeable. Another aspect that has been changing recently is the year-round academic year. The buildings are no longer unoccupied during summertime, therefore MEP systems have to be designed for full occupancy during summer months. Sustainability is an area that has been taking a more central role in the design, and I would expect to see even more emphasis on green design and energy-conservation measures.

Robbins: Colleges and universities tend to have a long-term vision. They have staffs that are interested in systems that can have a more positive impact on the environment. It is our responsibility to provide them with the information so we can collectively make the best decisions for the project and university. We need to continue to push the envelope of energy-reduction measures where viable.

Crawford: There has been a growing focus on sustainability and the use of technology with all building project types on college/university campuses, particularly with respect to awareness by the students, and I expect that trend to continue for several years to come. With respect to sustainability, I see a steady march toward net zero buildings, with renewable energy being an expected component of all new or major renovation projects. With respect to technology, interactive and virtual classrooms with a long-distance learning component will take the place of the traditional large lecture halls.

Batra: Colleges and universities have become more aware of their operational and maintenance costs and are constantly looking to reduce them by improving efficiency and standardizing their systems at their campuses. The projects also are focused on reducing or minimizing the natural resources by promoting sustainable design of facilities and reducing greenhouse gas emissions at each of their campuses. The next 1 to 3 yr will bring major investments in designing high-performance buildings that are approaching net zero or are net zero smart-energy buildings, energy efficiency projects, renewable energy projects, and distributed-generation/smart-grid projects.

Buck: In recent years, colleges and universities have focused on the programming and design of spaces where groups can collaborate and share knowledge. This has led to a lot of group spaces and common areas in conjunction with network connectivity and wireless technology.

CSE: On what aspect of college/university projects do you see the most emphasis being placed by building owners? In what area(s) is your firm doing the most engineering work?

Robbins: There continues to be a strong emphasis on how we can reduce the energy consumption of buildings while maintaining acceptable levels of thermal comfort. Another big topic is resiliency. Universities are asking for more information about how they can improve the resiliency of their existing buildings and what is the impact on the design.

Hebert: Colleges and universities are well aware that the facilities they build or renovate today will likely remain in service for decades, and most are recognizing the ever-growing importance of the total and long-term cost of the buildings’ ownership. Further, they expect these buildings to meet all the requirements for modern teaching and research facilities while having the flexibility to adapt to future pedagogies. Additionally, buildings must perform at extremely high levels from safety, energy, and maintainability perspectives. More than ever before, colleges and universities are demanding high performance from building systems, envelopes, finishes, and space use. As an integrated architecture, energy, and engineering firm, EYP engineers actively contribute to the design of all building systems, including HVAC, lab exhaust, smoke control, building automation, lighting, power distribution, fire detection and suppression, life safety, telecommunications, specialty gases, and other piped services. Our engineers also work closely with our architects to optimize the performance of the building envelope and maximize daylighting opportunities.

Buck: It is highly variable and dependent on the types of owners with which we are working. We have clients who are extremely proactive and have specific and measurable goals in mind for each project. These goals typically drive the design, and we focus our design on the areas of most concern to those clients. We have other clients that are more reactive, unsure of the project requirements, and how to actually achieve them. Our design and engineering experience helps guide them toward goal development and the designs to achieve their desired goals.

Crawford: Colleges and universities continue to put a high level of emphasis on upgrading HVAC and building automation systems (BAS), as those have by far the greatest impact on energy consumption and operating costs. We are also seeing more emphasis being placed on technology (information technology, telecommunication, A/V, and security systems) in buildings.

Batra: Major emphasis is being placed by owners on sustainable designs, reducing their operational and maintenance costs, and their ability to standardize systems at their campus. We are currently undertaking MEP and fire protection designs for various campus facilities.

CSE: Describe your experience working with the contractor, architect, owner, or other team members in creating a BIM model for a college/university.

Pelau: We’ve recently completed the MEP/IT/AV and lighting design of Manhattan College Student Commons, which opened in 2014. The building, which is approximately 70,000 sq ft, was designed by Perkins Eastman Architects completely in Autodesk Revit. Syska’s team used Revit MEP for enhanced collaboration between disciplines, as well as for system-clash detection. Working with Revit has allowed us to take a virtual 3-D tour from a 2-D drawing. This has resulted in greater efficiency with regard to coordination with the various design disciplines. Work-sharing and linking various disciplines into one central Revit model has allowed us to have an updated, real-time design view on how ductwork and HVAC equipment relate to other disciplines, such as plumbing piping, structural beams, and architectural items. These conflicts and issues have been addressed and resolved during design.

Robbins: BIM is one of my favorite topics. Mostly because there is still so much we can do as design professionals, construction managers, and owners. Everyone will say we do BIM. I like to ask, "What does that mean?" For most, BIM is primarily a 3-D modeling effort for clash detection prior to construction. Universities are leading the advancement of BIM by using a Revit model constructed per COBie guidelines and operating the model over a building management system (BMS) for real-time operation, analysis, and maintenance. Designers, contractors, and owners still have a ways to go to make this process more complete and effective, but it will happen.

Batra: We have had the opportunity to work on multiple projects where the final deliverable has been a BIM model. A vast majority of our BIM projects are typically initiated with a BIM kickoff meeting that all project stakeholders attend to discuss the owner’s expectations. The determining factor on who needs to attend usually depends on the BIM expectations for the project. To ensure all project stakeholders are on the same page at every stage of a project, a BIM execution plan is generated as a result of the BIM kickoff meeting. A BIM execution plan is a "living document" that is updated throughout the life of a project and generally includes the following information: scope of work; owner’s BIM expectations; contact information for key team members; model communication, sharing, and collaboration protocols; organization of the BIM model(s) and level of development for each discipline; and the end use of the BIM model(s). In many of our BIM projects, an integrated and collaborative approach has always been encouraged among all project stakeholders, including the contractor, architect, engineers, specialty consultants, and the owner. This not only ensures that everyone is on the same page throughout the life of a project, but also most importantly, the constant collaboration serves as an important reminder to the team whether sufficient progress is being made at every milestone to meet the owner’s final expectations.

Buck: Our ability to use the full capabilities of BIM depends on the expertise of the contractors that get involved in the projects during construction. Some contractors have the ability to use BIM for coordination purposes while others do not have the same capabilities, which limits the full implementation of BIM during construction. This is also true with owners. Many owners want to use BIM after building turnover, but do not yet have the capabilities to implement BIM. Architects are very involved in the BIM process during design, primarily for coordination between systems. This leads to better designs and fewer coordination issues in the field; however, currently the industry is still printing 2-D drawings for bidding and construction purposes, so some of the advantages of BIM are lost between the true modeling and creating readable 2-D drawings.

Crawford: BIM has been a part of virtually every college/university project we’ve completed over the past few years. We have worked with the architects to complete fully coordinated 3-D models of the building and all major building system components, and then we have provided those completed models to both the owner and contractor for their use in operating the building and constructing the building, respectively. We have found the application of BIM in our projects has improved collaboration among the design team members, reduced contractor uncertainty and constructability issues, sped up the construction process, and aided operation and maintenance of the building.

CSE: Have you specified a unique water-treatment or conservation system in a college/university?

Crawford: We have designed multiple stormwater-collection systems that collect water for use in the irrigation of landscaping.

Buck: At the College of Charleston Rita Hollings Science Center, RMF Engineering used a belowslab 4,800-gallon dual-filtered rainwater-harvesting system to provide make-up water for an evaporative cooling system as well as for water closet and urinal flushing.

Robbins: We have designed a system that collects rainwater and condensate from air-handling units and reuses it for cooling tower make-up water, toilet flushing, and irrigation.

Batra: We designed a rain-harvesting system for the Aztec Center (student union building) at San Diego State University. The system comprises two buried tanks that are used to store rainwater for irrigation.

CSE: According to research by Consulting-Specifying Engineer, engineering firms’ revenue streams come primarily from work in colleges/universities. Does your firm also receive the most revenue from designing and/or retrofitting mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP), and fire protection systems in these buildings?

Crawford: College/university projects make up roughly 25% of our firm’s overall revenue.

Batra: Yes, the majority of our revenues come primarily from the education market. Currently, 55% of our total revenues are attributed to college and university clients and involve MEP and fire protection designs for various educational facilities.

Buck: A significant amount of RMF’s revenue comes from work for colleges and universities, and it is a mix of retrofit/renovation projects and design projects. Retrofits and renovations often lead to additional work in the future because while serving as the prime consultant, we’re given the opportunity to develop a relationship with the owner and showcase our technical abilities and project-management skills. Building a good rapport directly with the owner opens the door for RMF to be a part of their new-construction projects moving forward.