HDR: Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center

Automation, controls; commissioning, retro-commissioning; electrical, power; energy, sustainability; fire, life safety; HVAC, mechanical; lighting; plumbing, piping.

By HDR August 10, 2017

Engineering firm: HDR

2017 MEP Giants rank: 7

Project: Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center

Address: Omaha, Neb.

Building type: Hospital/health care facility/research facility/laboratory

Project type: New construction

Engineering services: Automation, controls; commissioning, retro-commissioning; electrical, power; energy, sustainability; fire, life safety; HVAC, mechanical; lighting; plumbing, piping

Project timeline: January 2012 to May 2017

MEP/FP budget: $5,271,000


HDR worked with the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Nebraska Medicine to develop the Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, a 575,000-sq-ft facility that integrates cancer inpatient care, ambulatory services, diagnostic services, and therapy. Along with basic, population, clinical, and translational research, the aim is to simplify and improve the patient journey through various aspects of cancer care, as well as to create a knowledge network among clinical and research teams.

The cancer center is located at a central point on the campus. The center combines research, clinical care and education on the north-south axis, and cancer care with other health services on the east-west axis, creating a highly unified campus. The knowledge core of the facility provides a teaming environment for all dry research, as well as housing the office support areas of all clinical and research personnel. The facility is in close proximity to the staff’s primary workplaces in clinics and laboratories.

The cancer center combines cancer treatment and research to provide the highest level of cancer care, with the goal of earning a “Comprehensive Cancer Center” designation from the National Cancer Institute.

The new facility joins the research area of the campus and includes:

  • The Suzanne and Walter Scott Cancer Research Tower, which houses 98 labs.
  • The CL Werner Hospital Tower, which has 108 beds dedicated to oncology patients.
  • A multidisciplinary ambulatory care clinic.

While the main goal during the design phase was to bring together cancer care and research, a challenge for the engineering team was to develop separate infrastructure systems to support two very different programs. Another major challenge for the engineering team was to provide a sustainable solution that would increase the capacity of campus utilities to support the new 575,000-sq-ft facility. One of the main issues that the team needed to resolve involved increasing the steam load to provide heating and humidification to the building since the campus was nearly out of steam capacity.

The new facility was also being placed in the middle of a very dense campus, which required an existing building to be demolished. The site was very tight, and coordination with the existing underground utilities proved to be challenging. Additional challenges included relocating the campus helipad to the roof of the new facility; implementing a sound- and vibration-sensitive vivarium; and relocating the campus’s main loading dock.


A number of projects were required in order to get the infrastructure in place to serve the new cancer center. The first project involved a demolition package and an early site utilities package. In order to understand and determine how the design team could increase the heating plant’s capacity, a feasibility study was completed for the central utility plant, which was nearly out of high-pressure steam capacity. Upon the completion of the study, the engineering team and the owner determined that the best path forward was to create a new 140°F hot water system at the central utility plant with a distribution loop to the cancer center. The new heating plant features condensing boilers, heat recovery chillers and distribution pumps, along with a condensing flue gas economizer. The condensing flue gas economizer recovers heat from the existing high-pressure steam boiler flues and injects the heat into the heating hot water plant. The flue gas economizer has the capacity to recover nearly enough heat (18,000 MBH) to heat the entire cancer center.

Another project involved an addition to the east utility plant, resulting in additional building space, as well as new electrical generation and distribution equipment to support the new electrical loads associated with the cancer center. The east utility plant now has two 2,000-kW generators, along with supporting equipment. This equipment includes an underground fuel oil tank, day tanks, a bulk tank and piping system for the generator clean emissions injection system, fuel oil pumps and ventilation fans.

The engineering team faced a significant challenge when confirming that fresh air intakes were located such that the helipad and loading dock exhaust did not impact the ventilation air or the exhaust fans from both the new cancer center and adjacent research labs. In order to verify that the proper location was selected, a wind study was completed to model all building openings and exhaust systems on the adjacent buildings. To maximize energy-efficiency, runaround loop heat recovery systems were installed to serve the research tower with variable-speed exhaust air units, which saved energy and significantly reduced sound power levels during the evenings and off-peak hours. The facility now has a two-stage low-temperature heating water loop to increase the delta T and improve the efficiency of the boiler plant. It also uses domestic water preheat from the heating water return to further increase the plant’s efficiency.