Government facility design

Consulting engineers are working on government, state, municipal, federal, correctional and military buildings

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer July 25, 2019


Jody W. Baldwin, LEED AP, CEM 

Branch Manager, Mid Atlantic Division 

Envise, a wholly owned subsidiary of Southland Industries 

Sterling, Virginia 


Christopher Carter, EIT 

Associate/Graduate Electrical Engineer 


Austin, Texas 


Mark Chrisman, PE, MS 

Vice President/Healthcare Practice Director 

Henderson Engineers 

Kansas City 


Gary Krueger, PE, LEED AP BD+C, CM 

Vice President and Executive Director 

TLC Engineering Solutions 

Cocoa, Florida 


Joshua Meinig, PE 

Senior Mechanical Engineer 

CDM Smith 

Orlando, Florida 


Brian Pak, PE, LEED AP, BEMP 

Senior Mechanical Engineer, Department Lead 


Fairfax, Virginia 

CSE: What’s the biggest trend in government, state, municipal, federal, correctional and military projects? 

Jody W. Baldwin: Technology integrators will in large part agree that one of the biggest trends affecting their scopes of work in the federal market is the trend to migrate away from proprietary automation systems toward agnostic or open products, protocols and platforms. A principal factor forcing this trend is the significant growth of technology and its incorporation into virtually every aspect of a built environment. 

These new technologies do not simply affect individual pieces of equipment or individual buildings; they have significant impact on campuses and entire communities. As the quantity and complexity of technology has proliferated, traditional systems and platforms have been unsuccessful at keeping pace and we can no longer rely on a single manufacturer. 

Also, project procurement and execution has long been one of the challenges faced by contractors when pursuing work with federal agencies. A growing trend in the federal space is to rely more on disadvantaged organizations to provide professional services, supply materials and parts and to perform the on-site construction activities.  

The Small Business Administration’s 8a and other programs have grown to include more disadvantaged groups, have higher percentage goals on federal projects and have evolved to provide increased opportunities for the target organizations. Mentor-protégé programs and joint venture with disadvantaged companies are provide for and encouraged. This sometimes adds a layer of complexity to a project, but also affords for new ideas and skill sets from individuals and organizations that might otherwise be precluded from participating. 

Christopher Carter: Projects are trending to more sustainability and energy conservation with an increased focus on employee wellness. We are starting to see more interests in small group collaboration spaces and other features tailored for younger talent. 

Gary Krueger: Upgrade or replacement of existing dated, obsolete or energy inefficient facilities to meet changing needs related to shifts in demographics, technology and demands for increased service and enhance workplace environments. New project programs differ substantially from facilities that are replaced.  

Consolidation of support functions and centralization of resources with focus on enhanced efficiencies. Enhanced interest on life cycle cost and flexibility to anticipate and accommodate future needs. 

Mark Chrisman: On the military side, similar to the private sector, we are seeing a need for speed in completing projects. The design-build method is great for speeding up the entire process, but we are also seeing the introduction of prefabricated construction.  

There’s also an emphasis on infrastructure work, be it renovations, central utility plants or studies regarding water hazards in existing buildings. 

Josh Meinig: The biggest trend I see is resiliency and redundancy. Providing all aspects of design with robust features for the long term. Whether it is designing for sea-level rise, hurricanes or uninterrupted power, a lot of our project need to keep running to provide the owners clients with continuous operation. 

Brian Pak: The biggest trend in government projects is sustainability and energy efficiency. I acknowledge this is nothing new and has been an ongoing trend in the built environment industry for quite some time, but we are seeing more and more buzzwords such as net zero, carbon neutrality and high-performance associated with large federal government projects.  

With budget constraints in most federal government projects, it is extremely difficult to achieve net zero or carbon neutral in the current economic environment, but we are seeing projects with a sense of awareness and desire to go net-zero. We recently came across a new project requiring a feasibility study on net-zero strategies as a part of the project submission. 

CSE: What trends do you think are on the horizon for such projects? 

Pak: A higher level of sustainability and energy performance. The entire built environment industry is heading toward higher levels of sustainability assisted by self-regulating construction industry and mandates from state, city and federal governments. We are seeing net-zero, carbon neutrality and high-performance associated with large federal government projects.  

Due to budget constraints, it might not be economically feasible to design and construct net-zero or carbon neutral buildings in the current economic environment, but all levels of governments and industry governing bodies are moving toward enacting policies and regulations for higher levels of energy efficiency. 

Baldwin: The proliferation of technology and the concurrent reduction in cost of individual points of control result in massive amounts of data. As our industry continues to create new ways to collect data streams, we need to create a process that brings value to them. That process is building analytics.  

Analytics is the discovery, interpretation and communication of meaningful patterns in data, and the process of applying those patterns toward effective decision making. We often fail to fully develop the effective decision-making piece of this definition. That will be a critical success factor for technology integrators going forward. 

Carter: We are seeing more use of technology. Government buildings are finally catching up to other commercial, non government office buildings in terms of the use of technology. For example, “internet of things” and power over Ethernet are increasingly common in government buildings.  

The total cost of ownership of these systems has been decreasing in conjunction with the increase of multiple applications and vendors providing viable options for potential use. There are numerous applications available where these technologies could improve existing systems, efficiencies and emergency response times. 

Chrisman: I think we will continue to see more uses for prefabrication and modular construction as long as the various public sector organizations continue to incorporate these methods within their codes, criteria and standards. 

Meinig: With dwindling natural resources, alternative energy and energy efficiency will have to be the next big push in design. Although these have always been in the forefront, alternative energy sources will have to become part of the new standard when designing these facilities. 

CSE: Each type of project presents unique challenges — what types of challenges do you encounter for these types of projects that you might not face on “civilian” or other types of structures? 

Meinig: Hazards, the types of facilities that I am involved with almost always have some sort of hazard. With municipal projects at water and wastewater treatment plant sites, chemicals (sodium hypochlorite, fluoride, acids, ozone, etc.) are always present within the structures I design. Knowing the applicable codes and standards is essential to providing a safe and energy efficient design.  

WWTPs also present other hazards, depending on the process that is taking place within the structure. Methane buildup and hydrogen sulfide production can also provide additional challenges designing in these structures. Careful electrical classification of the spaces is required to ensure all disciplines are aware of how and what to design for. 

Carter: Government agencies often require their own set of standards and regulations that call for design features above and beyond established code. It can be challenging navigating the requirements of each agency, but it gets easier with more exposure.  

A good starting place for government projects is the Whole Building Design Guide; it provides many of the design criteria required. In addition, there are case studies available for past design projects to reference. 

Chrisman: We regularly run into challenges with codes, fire protection, life safety and antiterrorism/force protection that are not regularly seen in the private sector. Because there are so many codes, standards and criteria referenced in the standards statements of work/request for proposal, an early code review by all parties involved is critical.  

We often run into at least one interesting requirement that exists in an obscure standard that is rarely referenced but meaningful to whatever unique project we’re working on. 

Pak: Challenges associated with designing high secure/classified type federal government projects include, but are not limited to budget, physical security, cybersecurity, redundancy, flexibility, expandability, risk management, acoustics, mission critical provisions, sensitive compartmented information facility provisions, TEMPEST provisions, layers of conflicting standards/guidelines, outdated requirements and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive protection.  

As one can imagine, many of these criteria are hindrance to energy efficiency and sustainability. The process of incorporating all these requirements while trying to optimize the system/energy efficiency can be a daunting task. 

Baldwin: There are three groups of challenges that are presented on many projects: 

  • Fear of the unknown: Many facility managers have worked with a single building automation provider for years or even decades. Large-scale technology upgrades can be daunting. 
  • Data security: This is still a challenge but is subsiding slowly as a greater understanding of cybersecurity and increased protection options makes its way into information technology departments. Building automation systems rely heavily on data, data transport and data analysis. Heavy network usage often challenges those charged with keeping networks safe. 
  • Cost: Developing, delivering, maintaining and bringing value to these complex systems will always be a challenge.  

CSE: What are engineers doing to ensure such projects (both new and existing structures) meet challenges associated with emerging technology? 

Chrisman: This is especially difficult in the government/public sector. The statement of work/request for proposal are based around criteria that exist as of the date the SOW/RFP was published, some of which sit on the shelf, waiting for funding for several years and the project is often still held to those older criteria that may not allow or reference emerging technologies.  

A great example of that is the machine roomless elevators; great technology but there are many different options that are manufacturer specific and the codes, be it ASME 17.1 or NFPA 13 for example, cannot keep up with because most codes are updated on a three-year cycle. A lot of innovation can happen in a three-year period. 

Carter: With how fast technology and best practices are changing, you have to take a vested self-interest in professional development within your craft. It can be receiving a presentation from vendors, attending trade conferences, being a part of professional organization such as IEEE or as simple as staying abreast with articles published in the good trade magazines. 

Baldwin: Successful firms have realized that the new concept of internet of things goes well beyond the old concept of temperature control. The industry has seen an ever-increasing percentage of project dollars be invested in technology. It is critical for project teams to involve the building systems integrators — the IoT providers — at the earliest stages of project design.  

The historical methodology for employing temperature control contractors as a subcontractor to the mechanical contractor needs to be reimagined. Those contractors need to be involved as partners to the mechanical or to the general contractors because there is so much more at stake. 

Krueger: Progressive advocates in the design industry understand it is imperative that the facility design engineers work collaboratively with government stakeholders to introduce and explain design options as they relate to incorporating or accommodating future technologies. It is a critical role to properly educate the government stakeholders to understand and appreciate options and recommendations to allow an informed decision regarding options.  

If limited by budget concerns, we would recommend, at a minimum, to integrate the infrastructure to accommodate future technologies once funds become available or the cost for advanced technology drops to more reasonable or commodity basis. 

Pak: Engineers must apply sound engineering judgment with basic fundamentals of heating, ventilation and air conditioning design when designing with or evaluating new or emerging technologies.  

Engineers should identify all pros and cons of system types and perform a thorough quantitative and qualitative comparison analysis so that clients can make informed decisions. Unfortunately, when new/emerging technologies are adapted and implemented, we sometimes see new technologies’ advantages being exaggeratedly emphasized while disadvantages are partially concealed or not fully explored. 

Meinig: Engineers typically read publications and attend conferences on new technologies. Working closely with product manufacturers and their engineers with new technologies help ensure that both the engineer and manufacturer are specifying the correct equipment for the project. 

CSE: Tell us about a recent project you’ve worked on that’s innovative, large-scale or otherwise noteworthy. 

Carter: We recently worked on a master plan for the Texas Facilities Commission consisting of two high-rise office buildings, with an interconnecting five levels of underground parking and an above-ground pedestrian-oriented mall located in downtown Austin, Texas. The systems our team engineered included (but were not limited to) the following concept design systems: mechanical HVAC, plumbing systems, fire protection systems, electrical power system distribution, lighting system, lighting control systems and telecommunication infrastructure.  

One unique challenge of this project was the phasing of all the different components and planning for future expected growth. The project consists of six different phasing packages to be bid out to different design-build teams. The complex will house various government entities and serve as a public green space for tourism, events and festivals. 

Meinig: The King Faisal Air Force Base in Tabuk, Saudi Arabia, included 10 new facilities and one existing facility to support the Saudi F-15 fleet modernization program. The facilities included a squadron operation building with offices, locker rooms, dining hall, kitchen, auditorium and various mission-related rooms.  

The other facilities were a wheel and tire hop, full mission trainer facility, corrosion control facility, fuel system maintenance hangar, weapons release/gun system shop, avionics/pod facility, aerospace ground equipment maintenance facility and a domestic water and fire pump building. 

The existing facility was a partial renovation of a F-15 hangar. The overall scale of the project was challenging along with applying all the applicable Unified Facilities Criteria, ASHRAE codes and local Saudi Arabian codes. Several facilities required the rooms and systems to be designed as a “U.S. controlled storage facility” and had to meet the applicable construction standards for security. 

The hangar renovation portion of the project included a chilled water system for a Boeing-supplied hydraulic test stand for the F-15 components. This required close coordination with Boeing on the heat load and type of hydraulic fluid for sizing the heat exchangers and chiller. 

Electrical hazard classification identification was also very important in various structures including the fuel system maintenance hangar, corrosion control facility and the aerospace ground facility. The aerospace ground facility also had a full battery maintenance shop, special exhaust hoods and hydrogen detectors were used to provide operational safety for workers. 

Krueger: A current large-scale project that integrates innovative and large-scale innovations is the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts expansion in Orlando, Florida. The project includes several unique challenges including: 

  • A tight construction site directly adjacent to the existing and operating theater.  
  • A unique acoustically isolated theater that maintains acoustic isolation from exterior vibration effects.
  • Exposed structural system requiring integration of conduits and relative MEP features to minimize impact to architectural finishes. 

Chrisman: At the Cannon Air Force Base Medical and Dental Clinic in New Mexico, Henderson Engineers provided mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire and life safety and code consulting services. This clinic provides primary care and dental services to active duty military personnel along with their families who reside on the base.  

This facility was honored with a Design-Build Institute of America Mid-America Region Honor Award in Facility Design as well as an Honor Award in Facility Design at the U.S. Air Force Design Awards program. 

The existing medical facility that was originally constructed in 1965 became outdated and started deteriorating. The central plant equipment and building utility distribution systems were antiquated and oversized to the current outpatient use of the facility. The existing hospital interior construction techniques and systems limited the ability to adapt to the changing needs of modern-day health care requirements and the growing special operations mission at the base demanded a modern, adaptable facility to meet the needs of the base population. 

The Henderson engineering team has designed health care facilities for every branch of the armed forces. Thus, Cannon AFB relied on us to provide building systems design for the new facility that replaced the 832nd Tactical Hospital. The new, two-story building was created with a vision to facilitate and improve communication between medical staff and patients.  

Our design included optometry, pediatrics, physical therapy, radiology, a lab and a pharmacy, in addition to the dental clinic. Throughout the project, we planned for the extensive services that would be offered and incorporated supporting infrastructure for new technology. We also served as a resource to the project team to implement Unified Facilities Criteria. 

Pak: Dewberry was recently involved in designing the MEP systems for a 450,000-square-foot, eight-level, built-to-suit office building in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area for a classified federal government tenant. The project sustainability requirement and goal was LEED Silver certification.  

The project team ended up delivering LEED Platinum certification contributed by achieving all 21 LEED points for Optimize Energy Performance Credit (EA Credit 1) on the 21-point scale. The cost premium to go from LEED Silver to Platinum was relatively small for the project and was well within the project’s contingency allowance. 

CSE: How are engineers designing these kinds of projects to keep costs down while offering appealing features, complying with relevant codes and meeting client needs? 

Pak: Conventional wisdom has generally shown that it is necessary to increase the first cost to achieve higher energy efficiency. While that is true in many cases and logical assumption to make, there are ways to lower first cost and increase energy efficiency at the same time.  

For example, a conventional chilled water system with 44 F supply and 56 F return will use 50% more chilled water and pump power when compared to a low temperature chilled water system with 40 F supply and 58 F return. A conventional air system with 55 F supply air will require 45% more air and fan power when compared to a low temperature air system with 46 F supply air (facilitated by 40 F chilled water). Moving less air will result in lower fan horsepower, smaller fan equipment, smaller ductwork and less sound attenuation. Moving less water will result in lower pump horsepower, smaller pump equipment and smaller piping. 

In addition, smaller equipment/system will have ripple effects in lower architectural cost and electrical system cost, further reducing the total first cost. There is one caveat though: The low temperature and wide temperature systems are achieved by using higher cost (dollar per ton) chillers operating at lower efficiency (kilowatts per ton) conditions. The cost premium and higher energy usage of the chillers in our design will usually be offset by the cost and energy savings in all other air conditioning components. 

We spend more money on the chillers and make them work “harder” so that we spend less money on all other air conditioning system and make them work “less.” This is one aspect of holistic systematic design approach that lowers both first cost and energy consumption at the same time for the entire building. 

Baldwin: Significant economies of scale are available to design and construction teams who embrace IoT from a building or campus level. The traditions of the construction industry sometimes make it challenging to combine scopes of work from mechanical and electrical trades.  

However, when that can be done clients can see an increased benefit. Using a single communications network and a single platform to manage all building technologies is possible. The single largest technology improvement allowing us to truly incorporate IoT into our buildings is the internet protocol network. When fully used, these networks can bring incredible value to building operators. 

Chrisman: The majority of our military projects use design-build project delivery, and cost represents a major aspect of successfully landing and completing these types of projects. The major design and cost discussions usually start early in the proposal stage and continue as we perform an initial site observation and review as-builts.  

Trade partners are engaged early, as we are often designing the building systems as the project is being developed by the architects. We are lucky that we work with some talented architects who put together nice spaces and work with the design team to make sure we have space for the appropriate equipment and are meeting all required codes, standards and criteria. 

Another nice feature of military work is repeat work with the same client on one of the various contracting options available through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This repeat work allows us to build a relationship with the group of people who administer the projects on the contract, which lessens the learning curve with each project and allows us to take advantage of lessons learned on previous projects — both of which helps keep costs down. 

Carter: Early and often engagement with the stakeholders is key. It helps to ensure that an agreeable level of expectation management is achieved. During this iterative process, engineers strive to achieve a balance between costs and technology — and it starts with the client’s needs. A big part of design is establishing relationships and open lines of communication to help navigate these complex and intertwined constraints of innovation, costs and client expectations. 

Krueger: The current bid and pricing climate is extremely volatile due to current volume of construction and we understand that effective cost control is best attacked by the early evaluation of design options and consideration of value engineering options. By evaluating value engineering options early, we can balance owner priorities and minimizing the impact of cost control measures. 

Meinig: We are using high-efficiency equipment and pushing for more efficient construction (roofs, windows, wall, etc.). We also provide energy modeling and running life cycle cost analyses to show clients their options for equipment to use on their facilities. 

CSE: How has your team incorporated integrated project delivery or virtual design and construction into a project? 

Chrisman: Our firm has not completed either of these items for public/governmental related projects. The current public processes for design are not really set up to allow for virtual design, especially in Veterans Affairs, General Services Administration and Department of Defense work. 

However, as it is becoming more and more common in the private sector, this could be something that is used moving forward. In both the public and private sectors, there’s a lot of discussion about IPD, but not a lot of actual instances of its application. We’ve seen lots of modified versions of IPD, which seems to be an easier process to complete from a contractual standpoint. 

Meinig: My team provides all projects using Autodesk Revit and Navisworks to develop Navisworks files for owner involvement during design. The owners can download a free Navisworks viewer to virtually walk through their new facility. We also use lidar scanning of existing structures for design and use the scanning technology during construction, overlaying the point cloud models over the 3D computer-aided design model. 

Krueger: Our experience with IPD has been primarily for private sector health care and themed entertainment projects. Owners have introduced variations of IPD principals but they generally involve dedicated “big room” meetings that include owners, contractors and the design team to collaborate effectively throughout the design and construction process. Pull-planning is used to identify project impediments and scheduling of key activities.  

The development of a shared building information modeling model is a key component. Challenges typically include tendency of less experienced IPD partners to revert to previous delivery habits and processes. IPD processes continue to evolve as owners retain key components including big room meetings and embedment of subcontractor staff with the design team. 

Carter: We emphasize the importance of effective collaboration between the owners, contractor and design team. Access to more technology and collaboration tools allows the design and construction teams to better coordinate and maximize the project development time across the various design disciplines and stakeholders.  

These processes help to create better client and team experience. This creates the opportunity for parties to be actively engaged through the design process which helps to maintain project schedule and budget. 

CSE: How are these types of buildings being designed to be more energy efficient? 

Baldwin: Many technologies that have existed for decades have seen improvements that allow for their increased inclusion. Variable frequency drives, especially for smaller motor sizes, demand control ventilation, heat recovery and geothermal exchange are examples. 

Lighting and lighting control are likely the largest group of technologies being evaluated in virtually every project. New technologies bring improved environments as well as improved energy efficiency and sustainability. Combined heat and power and CHP with cooling are also seeing increased evaluation and inclusion. These technologies and systems can provide energy efficiency, but often bring greater value for energy security. 

Carter: Governments are seeing the culture shift to more sustainable practices and have begun to implement these practices into their design and construction standards and regulations. They are increasing the use of LED lighting and advanced control technologies in conjunction with solar applications such as solar water heating.  

BAS are playing a bigger role in controlling HVAC strategies for increased building efficiencies. For example, the United States Army has been implementing net-zero initiatives across select installations for the past eight years. Government buildings are starting to be designed with sustainability as a core focus versus as an afterthought. 

Chrisman: The entire architecture, engineering and construction industry is focused on energy, which we should be. In military construction, there was a period when everything was designed for U.S. Green Building Council LEED Platinum or Gold.  

However, after several years of incurring additional project costs, the focus has switched to designing for LEED Silver or even simply just designing the buildings to be efficient, often by following LEED standards but not submitting the project for certification. 

Krueger: The recent advances and evolution of the building codes and Unified Facilities Criteria 1-200-01 (for federal projects) have driven designs to energy efficiency.  

The increased use of comprehensive energy models also has had a positive impact on better understanding of energy considerations and exploration of energy savings options, especially energy control measures that can demonstrate a reasonable payback. Federal government mandates to consider photovoltaics and solar hot water if economically feasible also influences design. 

Meinig: We look at placement of the buildings on the site, providing better than energy code required design and using innovated technologies when applicable. We have leveraged some of the processes by using carbon monoxide generation and CHP. 

CSE: What is the biggest challenge you come across when designing government, state, municipal, federal, correctional and military projects? 

Carter: Navigating the various government codes and standards required staying on top of NFPA and International Building Code. This issue gets even more complex when you have a U.S. government building located in a foreign country and have to balance what is required in the U.S. with what the host-nation requires. Deciding which nation’s codes takes precedent over the other can become very challenging, especially when multiple authorities having jurisdiction get involved. 

Pak: The biggest challenge in designing federal government building is understanding the exact project requirements and defining the scope of work. Federal government projects requirements differ significantly depending on the government department and each program requirements.  

For example, General Services Administration projects will typically be designed to comply with Facilities Standards for the Public Buildings Service (P100 or PBS-P100). Department of Defense buildings will typically be designed to comply with UFC. 

In addition, there are sectors of federal government in the intelligence and military community that have their own specific classified requirements and guidelines for specific functions. Federal government projects typically have solicitation for offers documents that are supposed to clarify and define the project’s scope of work, but wording in these documents can sometimes generate more questions. 

Chrisman: Conflicting and/or duplicate criteria between all the codes and standards that are often required on these projects pose the biggest challenge to our designs. On some military installations, we’ve come across three different criteria for the same requirement between the International Building Code, NFPA 101 and the local installation standard. Even with an order of precedence, it can be difficult to decipher what the desired outcome is. 

The other challenge we run into is the large number of individuals who review the design submittals. The questions and comments generated by this group of reviewers can often conflict, requiring extensive coordination. 

Meinig: Designing to LEED with strict requirements written into the scope of requirements that may contradict LEED. 

CSE: What is the typical project delivery method your firm uses when designing these facilities? 

Krueger: Currently construction manager at risk remains the more popular delivery process vehicle. The current extremely active construction markets limits design-build and design-bid-build as contractors would typically prefer the construction manager process and avoid the potential lost costs inherent in design-build and design-bid-build.  

Unless a two-step process or qualifications consideration is incorporated, IPD is generally reserved for private-sector projects but we have seen the influence of IPD best practices in all sectors. 

Chrisman: For military projects, our most common delivery method is design-build. At any given moment, we have a number of design-build projects going on throughout our firm. It’s an effective and efficient method for all parties, including the owner, when you have a good team in place.  

We have been working with most of our design-build partners for many years and everyone looks out for everyone else. In this setup, everyone goes the extra mile to make sure things are done correctly the first time as the team succeeds and fails together — and failure is not an option in the public sector. 

Meinig: Typically for municipal, state and city projects, design-bid-build is the overwhelming majority. For military and U.S. government project, these are typically design-build type contracts. 

Carter: We have used all of these delivery methods, but we typically see design-build or design-bid-build for designing these types of facilities. We recently provided design-build services on a military base which comprised of designing new medium-voltage 15-kilovolt system to include new 4/6 way switches, new underground duct banks and new encased man holes to consolidate megavolt power supply and increase power sustainability across the base. The design was accompanied with ampere calculations and software modeling to confirm ampacity of the new feeders within the duct banks.