Dewberry: Duke Chapel Utility & MEP Upgrades

Automation, controls; commissioning, retro-commissioning; electrical, power; HVAC, mechanical; lighting; religious building; and system overhaul
By Dewberry August 9, 2018

Since its original construction in the early 1930s, the historic Duke University Chapel had not undergone any major renovations or restorations beyond the addition of the Flentrop Organ in 1976. Source: DewberryEngineering firm: Dewberry

2018 MEP Giants rank: 38

2018 Commissioning Giants rank: 25

Project: Duke Chapel Utility & MEP Upgrades

Location: Durham, NC, United States

Building type: Church/religious building

Project type: System overhaul

Engineering services: Automation, controls; commissioning, retro-commissioning; electrical, power; HVAC, mechanical; and lighting

Project timeline: December 2014 to July 2016

MEP/FP budget: $195,000

Commissioning budget: $9,658


Duke University challenged Dewberry to modernize its utility and building engineering systems within an established construction schedule. Dewberry’sgoal was to provide design and engineering services for the following tasks while preserving the university’s iconic cornerstone:

1. Eliminate confined space areas and other safety issues.

2. Construct new systems within existing physical space and entrance points. All new service transformers, switchgear, and large air handling units had to be brought into the building through a 4-ft door.

3. Construction must be complete for organ tuning. Tuning of the chapel’s three premier organs, housing more than 12,500 individual pipes combined, required two full weeks of complete silence prior to the opening.

Dewberry designed new fully custom enclosed air handlingunits that increased the cooling capacity, re-established outside air, and provided redundancy. Source: DewberryThis project was awarded the 2016 Pinnacle Award for Best Building Project, $5 Million and Over by Carolinas Associated General Contractors. Source: DewberryDewberry modernized the utility services, HVAC, building automation controls, and electrical distribution within the framework of the overall restoration project without any impact to the project's initial completion date. Source: Dewberry


1. Eliminate confined space areas and other safety issues: Dewberry designed a new 15-kV utility entrance that uniquely entered the building and was able to be completely encased in concrete. The design also featured a new dry-type unit substation that eliminated exposed bussing and flammable liquid in the old oil-filled transformers. Dewberry also arranged the reconfigured mechanical room to provide a clear path of egress from the utility entrance room out around the air handling units, not through them.

2. Construct new systems within existing physical space and entrance point: Duke would not permit any modification to the exterior of the building or reduction in staff area inside the building. Dewberry designed the new air handling units within the original mechanical room with the exception reconfiguring access to a vault. The biggest accomplishment was working very closely with a custom manufacturer to design the two large air handling units to break down into small enough pieces to fit through a 4-ft-wide by 6.5-ft-tall door.

Through a collaborative relationship with the AHU manufacturer and contractor, Dewberry was able to accomplish work within the restrictive space of the existing mechanical room and deliver a customized air handling solution. Source: Dewberry3. Construction must be complete for organ tuning: To meet the well-publicized grand re-opening the three massive organs within Duke Chapel had to go through an extensive tuning process. This process took 2weeks and zero construction, not even inspections, were allowed during this time. The owner, Dewberry, and the construction team worked very closely in scheduling and completing all aspects of construction, inspections, and commissioning prior to organ tuning.

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