Facility Assessment – An Early Look Can Prevent Unpleasant Surprises Later

Time is money. An engineer can speak no truer words. Apart from knowledge and experience, judicious use of time is the only other thing that an engineer can apply to accomplishing a successful project. Conversely, the misuse of time can mean trouble. When an engineer is assigned a project, he or she juggles myriad documents and forms that must be completed within a deadline set by others.

By Michael P. Sheerin, P.E., Healthcare Division Director, TLC Engineering for Architecture, Orlando November 1, 2003

Time is money. An engineer can speak no truer words. Apart from knowledge and experience, judicious use of time is the only other thing that an engineer can apply to accomplishing a successful project. Conversely, the misuse of time can mean trouble.

When an engineer is assigned a project, he or she juggles myriad documents and forms that must be completed within a deadline set by others. A structural engineer, for ex-ample, would be loathe to commit his or her design of a building addition without a geotechnical report, yet M/E/P engineers commonly forge into similar activities with scant knowledge of a building’s existing systems and infrastructure.

Generally, the information necessary to integrate new M/E/P system connections to the existing building—information gleaned from record drawings, site visits and discussions with facility staff—is gathered prior to completion of the design. Surprises can occur as analyses and load calculations bring recognition of inadequate infrastructure or distribution needed to support the addition. Such surprises can lead to painful discussions about the adequacy of the construction budget and the preparedness of the engineering team to ferret out these issues early enough.

Likewise, an owner may realize greater benefit when the engineer can conduct a more thorough and comprehensive review of the facility.

When selected to design a project, an engineer must balance time with due consideration of the facility’s M/E/P system issues. Many engineers rightly highlight energy-saving concepts and infrastructure improvements, and then initiate important planning decisions. However, a number of rocks remain unturned.

Like that of the proverbial doughnut maker, an engineer’s best chance to satisfy clients is to start working early. Many sharp owners enlist their design professionals to review their facilities, systems, infrastructure and distribution while a project is still in the conceptual or planning stages. This drastically reduces big dollar surprises, identifies major roadblocks that might derail an architect’s plans and provides valuable input for developing construction phasing.

The facts at Frederick

Faced with massive renovation and building expansion plans, officials at Frederick Memorial Hospital knew that infrastructure improvements would be necessary, but they needed to know what kind of improvements, where they would be needed and how extensive they would be. Due to the age of the facility—various parts dated back more than 80 years—it was critical that engineers understood the capacity, condition and distribution of systems so they could make decisions that would best serve redevelopment efforts.

FMH officials immediately recognized the potential benefits of having engineers perform a facility systems assessment that could be merged with the architect’s master planning and the construction manager’s budget development. The following were analyzed:

Existing facility standards . These protocols were reviewed and considered to determine their impact to the proposed project 2000 expansion and renovation. Design and product standards were scrutinized for code compliance, equipment improvement and the hospital’s opportunity to integrate substantial upgrades.

For example, the hospital had been using a variety of medical gas outlet styles, typically due to the varying ages of the building wings. By assisting the hospital in selecting an outlet type that best suited their clinical needs, engineers helped define a new standard that FMH will continue to apply to the retrofit areas not affected by this project.

Existing electrical services . These were analyzed for capacity, building and site/utility distribution. A system-wide short-circuit study was also conducted. Since normal electrical capacity was inadequate with the existing service and no utility service redundancy was provided in its arrangement, a new double-ended switchgear system was proposed and projected loads were calculated based on the architect’s conceptual plans.

Utility services . Power actually comes from separate electrical substations. These were coordinated with the local utility provider, Allegheny Power. The building tools to accomplish this electrical service change-out were identified, including the optimal location and size of necessary space for the gear and the pathways to critical junction points for the tie-in of the new feeders.

The capacity and condition of the existing emergency generation system were considered. The generators and distribution system were unable to support the proposed project, so two new 1250-kW generators, paralleling gear and main distribution system were proposed.

Review of the clinical areas, equipment and systems served by existing emergency power was conducted to identify what was under-served, what would improve the hospital’s functionality in emergency conditions and what code or best practice requirements should be addressed.

Careful consideration was given to the phasing logistics of constructing the space needed for the new generation system and reconnection of all of the existing transfer switches before demolition of the existing generators.

Water chillers, steam boilers . This equipment and their distribution systems were traced out to develop an understanding of the entire network of pipes that served the facility. Chilled water performance had been hampered by numerous air-handing systems still equipped with three-way control valves, necessitating the system to operate with multiple primary pumps to maintain system pressure. A reduced chilled water temperature differential (?T) also resulted.

A key component of the engineering recommendations—beyond new water chillers to meet the increased cooling loads—was replacement of the remaining three-way control valves to two-way valves and conversion of the distribution system to a constant primary flow/variable secondary flow arrangement.

A life-cycle cost analysis compared the first costs of operating and maintenance of various chiller options (electric centrifugals with and without variable speed drives, steam absorption, direct-fired absorption) and helped the owner select the chiller that best suited the proposed project.

Though boiler capacity was ample to support the increased steam loads, engineers needed to address the existing boilers’ ages and cramped boiler house. Reuse of the _____-old, 500-bhp boiler and replacement of the two 300-bhp boilers with similar sized new boilers in a boiler house expansion was recommended to resolve these issues and enable a phased transition of the equipment.

Medical waste. A sub-consultant’s analysis of the hospital’s medical waste load was conducted along with calculations to determine the projected increase of hazardous waste. Treatment options were then compared to consider incinerator replacement, which the hospital needed to take out of service due to its condition and inability to meet upcoming federal air quality standards. Hospital officials opted to use an on-site sterilization unit due to low unit costs and the enhanced benefit of continuing to treat medical waste at the hospital, where they have control and assurance that the medical waste is treated, shredded and disposed properly.

Detailed reviews of the other major M/E/P systems, including domestic water, medical gas, fire protection, sanitary, storm, fire alarm, security, cable TV, telecommunications/data networks and DDC building control systems were also conducted. The impact of the proposed project and the capacity and interconnections to the various areas of expansion were critical elements in helping the design process move ahead smoothly through multiple phases and years of construction.

Know your audience

The greatest characteristic of a quality facility assessment report is that it is accessible, the information is conveyed effectively, it is understandable to engineers and non-engineers, and that the owner’s goals are a recognized and referenced part of the narrative.

Some owners seek out multiple alternatives that offer budget “steps” to a solution. Others want a straight yes/no recommendation. Always provide a concise executive summary.

Finally, don’t forget to keep it interesting. If you can summarize five mind-numbing pages of techno-babble in two diagrams, save the aspirin and start drawing.