High-performance medical and educational building design

The design of high-performance medical and educational projects are challenging and need to meet specific standards, codes, and trends.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer June 22, 2016


Joseph A. D’Alù, PE, LEED AP, CEM, Division Manager, RMF Engineering, Charlottesville, Va.

TG Davallou, LEED AP, Partner, Alfa Tech Consulting Engineers, San Francisco

Sean Donohue, PE, LEED AP, Director, Colorado Springs, Jensen Hughes, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Anthony B. Preteroti, Associate Vice President, CannonDesign, Grand Island, N.Y.

Teresa Rainey, PE, LEED Fellow, Director of High-Performance Design, EYP Architecture & Engineering, Washington, D.C.

CSE: What’s the No. 1 trend you see today in the design of high-performance campus projects?

Joseph A. D’Alù: While a clients’ focus and vision can shift from reliability/redundancy to performance-based depending on building type and use, the biggest push in our practice today is energy optimization. This trend is well beyond the campus office/classroom/housing occupancies and is now integrated into the critical-environment sectors (health care, research and development, etc.). Historically, we have collaborated with owners focused on critical environments’ function; energy was often an afterthought. Today, each new project or client challenges our engineering team in a unique way to exceed baseline and prescriptive energy management. Whatever the incentive is, energy efficiency is king.

Sean Donohue: We’re seeing the migration/implementation of a "unified platform" approach, using the campus’ existing information technology network and information-management software to bring multiple and diverse monitoring, control, and operational systems—such as fire/life safety, physical security, logical security, and building management/environmental systems—into a single, unified operational system.

Anthony B. Preteroti: From an electrical perspective, LED lighting is the top trend. LED lighting offers a higher efficiency than its fluorescent predecessors. LED drivers often have inherent dimming capabilities, offering more control and improved daylight-harvesting ability. New standards and manufacturer options have made LED lighting a more viable, holistic solution.

Teresa Rainey: Our college/university clients are seeking design solutions that address both sustainability and resiliency. Integrating renewable onsite generation capabilities reduces greenhouse gas emissions and provides a level of grid independence that enables continued operation if there is an interruption in the utility grid. We are integrating end-use metering so our clients can monitor energy and water, which provides them the capability to reduce usage over time.

CSE: What other trends should engineers be aware of for high-performance campus projects in the near future?

Donohue: Look for the growing trend toward the use of varied "information/control"-capable devices. The phrase "Internet of Things" (IoT) is the most common term and essentially means that anything that can be connected to the Internet or a network will have the ability to upload and download information. This will impact security and operational controls of various systems that are now coming together under a unified platform.

D’Alù: Aside from energy and sustainability, I see the next 5 years of our practices trending toward a few key realities including integrated project design and buildings as energy consumers and generators. The slow but certain elimination of the "contractor-only" coordination process will drastically change the owner-architect-contractor team relationship. It’s happening already, with increasing numbers of construction manager at-risk and construction manager design-assist procurements as part of our process each year. While the contractor-only coordination process has been a competitive endeavor, the integrated design process will stitch together the efforts of all the project players—and the results may be extraordinary. Achieving higher levels of energy efficiency can often mean increased capital costs. With input from all project players and agreement on precise scope, cost estimation can be more accurate. We’re certainly facing an energy-management crisis and we’ll either muscle our way through it with enormous national power-infrastructure upgrades or we’ll leverage engineering abilities to reduce or eliminate the power shortcoming. For high-performance campus building projects, there are some unique possibilities including the ability to centralize utilities and benefit from campus building diversities.

Rainey: A trend we see is the development of intelligent building software, IoT wireless sensor technologies, and the cloud, which will enable building systems to respond in real time to actual occupancy and space use, predictive weather forecasting, and microclimate occupant-comfort controls along with many other capabilities to further drive energy reduction while also ensuring occupant comfort and well-being.

Preteroti: Look for addressable lighting control systems. As codes and standards become more stringent, they require a system, like addressable lighting controls, to effectively meet the requirements of criteria such as demand-response and receptacle controls. With the widespread use of LED lighting, these system types are more useful and effective. Another trend to watch for is resiliency. Campuses generally contain services and facilities that require 24/7 operations, such as student housing, research facilities, and medical centers. Other major trends include shared services, outside campus partnerships, and energy efficiency. A high-performance building contains and creates environments serving multiple functions and may even be shared among departments.

CSE: Please describe a recent high-performance campus project you’ve worked on.

Preteroti: Our firm currently is designing the Emerging Technologies and Entrepreneurship Complex (ETEC) at the State University of New York at Albany campus, in conjunction with the State University Construction Fund. The 236,000-sq-ft facility will house laboratory space for research, classrooms, collaboration spaces, faculty offices, and private-partnership suites. The facility has several sustainable goals including being net zero ready, achieving 200 kBtu/sq ft/year for labs and 38 kBtu/sq ft/year for offices, and incorporating 13% renewable energy sources. Multiple gas generators will provide backup and emergency power with redundancies. Still under client review are roof- and site-mounted photovoltaics (PV), LED lighting and an addressable lighting control system, high-efficiency condensing boilers with N+1 redundancy, three magnetic-bearing water-cooled chillers with N+1 redundancy, a high-performance variable air volume system, and air handling units with full economizers that will be folded together. An alternate geothermal heat pump system will also be evaluated.

Davallou: We provided mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineering services for a new general classroom facility that is approximately 100,000 sq ft. The project was designed to a minimum LEED Gold standard.

Donohue: The project involved multiple buildings for a medical-services campus. The buildings being constructed were both inpatient and outpatient clinics and included a long-term care facility. The new buildings’ communication systems were to be network-based, using a dedicated dark-fiber security network that is centrally controlled and monitored from a security operations center. The systems included both physical security (video surveillance, physical access control, intrusion, intercom communications, emergency communication system, detection equipment) and life safety/fire alarm systems.

CSE: Describe your experience working with the contractor, architect, owner, or other team members in creating a BIM for such a project.

Donohue: The most significant challenges were the coordination of all the systems and structure to accommodate the client’s shifting physical structure and operational requirements. The process mandates strong leadership and adherence to stated objectives.

Davallou: We had a very good working relationship with the team on the Mission College project. We coordinated and designed the daylighting, thermal comfort, and façade thermal analysis through BIM.

D’Alù: Complicated renovations are a large part of our business. We’re currently involved in a project for a major health care client to renovate patient-care areas to meet modern environmental and architectural standards. Complicating the task even further is the notion that the renovations are to be made while the client maintains full occupancy. The ability to create and phase all facets of the construction through BIM has been invaluable to the project, and all team members have contributed to this success.

CSE: Have you designed any projects using the integrated project delivery (IPD) method?

D’Alù: The concepts of IPD have been at the forefront of our practice. Our clients are seeking innovative solutions driven by two primary factors: the design team’s understanding of new technology and our lessons learned through our vast resume of completed projects. The latter can be greatly enhanced when you combine it with the construction manager’s own experience, which is the heart of IPD’s value, in my opinion. Our team has been working closely with a regional, government research facility that needs to update a variety of critical program areas that provide lab analysis services to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Each project can accurately be described as time-critical, where a loss of functionality for an extended period of time is intolerable. This series of projects has been highly successful, due in large part to the high level of collaboration among the owner, the design team, the code officials, and the contractor. Hallmarks of the process have included scheduled BIM reviews for coordination and constructibility, a high level of interaction with the end users and the design team, flexibility on the part of the owner, entertaining product and technology alternates, and the commitment of all parties to the owner’s vision for the project’s success.

CSE: What unusual requirements do high-performance campus projects have from an engineering standpoint?

Rainey: When evaluating appropriate systems for a project, the boundary moves beyond the building and considers interrelationships between other buildings on campus to understand the overall impact on energy and water consumption and peak demand. We also develop a path for future projects and/or adaptability for new technologies that will enable clients to achieve climate-based commitment goals.

Donohue: Integrated systems are sometimes at odds with their individual stated objectives. As is often the dichotomy between fire alarm and security, the former may be telling a secured door to unlock. The entire system must effectively communicate to prioritize and adapt between stated objectives, despite multiple operational platforms.

Davallou: They sometimes have PV, battery storage with dc/ac conversion, geothermal space, and chilled-water thermal storage.

D’Alù: In the course of sustainability, benchmarking new and renovated buildings that are served by campus utilities (district chilled water, heating hot water, steam, power) can be a challenge. This stems from the fact that dollars are often the stated final comparable when judging a building’s achievement in energy efficiency. Campus clients are most often the recipients of the best fuel-rate structures, and these relatively low unit costs can often skew the real energy-saving strides that, if expressed in units of energy, would show far greater baseline-to-design improvements.

CSE: Describe the commissioning process for a campus project. At what point was your team brought in, and what changes or upgrades were you able to implement on this campus?

Davallou: For Mission College, which was LEED Gold-certified, we had a third-party consultant for enhanced commissioning. There were comments regarding equipment optimization and maintenance that were implemented in the construction documents.

Donohue: The process involves the typical operational testing and commissioning of the individual systems. However, the process expands to verification of the data sharing and operational response, based on the systems involved and the expected responses required by the master plan.

CSE: Many of these campuses have extraordinary data needs. Describe the data center and how it was incorporated into this high-performance campus.

Donohue: While this particular project did not have a dedicated data center, this issue cannot be understated. As integrated-campus communication needs grow, the need for centralized and offsite data centers grow with them.

Davallou: For Mission College, we did the campus data center building with in-row cooling units and hot/cold-aisle arrangement.

CSE: When working on monitoring and control systems in high-performance campus projects, what factors do you consider?

Preteroti: Critical factors include determining who is going to use, operate, and maintain the system as well as what their system knowledge capabilities are. Other factors that need to be considered include the project and lighting controls budget, the necessary codes that need to be applied, and determining what systems will be interfaced or controlled by the lighting system.

Davallou: We consider open protocol (no propriety) so all HVAC/electrical systems can communicate with each other. Other factors we consider include flexibility, future expansions, and user-friendly operations.

D’Alù: There can be a need to balance multiple factors to provide the best solutions including sole-sourced systems, the owner’s standards and sequences, ongoing monitoring, and maintaining the proper levels of control reporting. Many of our owners have consolidated their controls monitoring around a single vendor. In most cases, this has occurred to facilitate long-term management of campus buildings. Also, given our risk management framework’s (RMF) years of practice serving many larger institutions, we have many clients who have not only created their own preferred sequences of operation but also have created their own controls, contracting arms, and instrumentation-maintenance teams. Working directly with these groups has been a sharing opportunity, as we have helped adapt client standards to new technology, assisted in the creation of some new institutional controls standards, and have had the opportunity to benefit from our clients’ own experience. Also, not all facilities require the highest levels of control or controls reporting. The idea of simple, robust engineering by providing the "appropriate" level of control and understanding that not everything is possible in every situation are hallmarks of thoughtful design.

CSE: What types of system integration and/or interoperability issues have you overcome in high-performance campus projects?

Davallou: We’ve encountered propriety HVAC system/protocol, which involved early collaboration with the campus and the contractor.

CSE: What unique tools are the owners of such projects including in their automation and controls systems?

Davallou: We’ve encountered Niagara/Jace for open-protocol (integration) systems.

Codes & Standards

CSE: How has the Affordable Care Act changed your approach to the design/engineering of high-performance medical campus projects?

Donohue: One of the effects has been the expansion of hospital licenses to offsite campuses previously run by independent physicians. This has created additional scrutiny for previously unregulated buildings.

CSE: Please explain some of the codes, standards, and guidelines you use . Which codes/standards should engineers be most aware of in their design of such projects?

Davallou: They should look for California building code standards, California Electrical Code, the Division of the State Architect standards, the CALGreen code, and LEED Version 3 and Version 4.

Donohue: NFPA 101: Life Safety Code and NFPA 99: Health Care Facilities Code are two primary health care references. Some states also adopt the American Society for Healthcare Engineering’s Facilities Guidelines Institute guidelines. For all projects, NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code is the primary reference for fire alarm and mass notification. Another excellent resource is Designing Mass Notification Systems: A Pathway to Effective Emergency Communications, 2013 Edition by Wayne Moore, PE, FSFPE. The International Code Council series of codes is also used by a majority of municipalities across the country.

CSE: How have the International Building Code, Society for College and University Planning (SCUP), The Joint Commission, NFPA, ASHRAE, and other organizations affected your work on high-performance campus projects?

Donohue: The intent of unified codes and standards is to provide a consistent and predictable baseline of requirements. The struggle comes when these different sources conflict with each other. It is important to understand the applicability of each code or standard based on the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). Always ask yourself who the AHJs are and which standards they enforce.

Davallou: We haven’t seen much effect. There are some differences between ANSI/ASHRAE/IES 90.1-2013—Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings and the California Energy Commission’s Title-24 energy efficiency standards.

CSE: How do you work with the architect, owner, and other project team members to make the electrical/power system both flexible and sustainable at the same time?

Preteroti: Communication is key. Understanding the client’s current and future needs helps you to properly size spaces and equipment. Using modular equipment aids in flexibility and sustainability; multiple, smaller units can provide better efficiency and control due to load variations. Fewer units can be run for peak shaving or emergency situations when a lower demand load is required. Additional units can be added as the building expands or if the program changes. Conversations with the design team can help create space to support new and future equipment without overcompensating. Space within a building is always at a premium.

Davallou: We employ coordination and a page-turn process.

CSE: Describe unique security and access-control systems you have specified in high-performance campus projects.

Davallou: We haven’t specified unique security and access-control systems for a campus. However, we have for other facilities with sensitive compartmented information facilities (SCIF), which require die-electric breaks for all conduits penetration.


CSE: Have you specified distinctive HVAC systems on any high-performance campus projects?

Davallou: Yes, for all of the College of Marin projects including the main building; math and science buildings have geothermal HVAC systems.

CSE: What unique HVAC requirements do high-performance campus projects have that you wouldn’t encounter in other projects?

Davallou: Geothermal systems will require a detailed well-test analysis and the water department’s approval. For example, for the Mission College project’s main building, we had to change the vertical-loop design to horizontal-loop during the construction administration because of leakage, which was not acceptable by the water department.

CSE: When retrofitting existing buildings for such projects, what challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

Davallou: We’ve seen space issues for thermal storage and geothermal. For Soka University, we looked at a void space near the central plant to locate the chilled-water thermal storage tanks. Sustainable buildings/energy efficiency

CSE: Energy efficiency and sustainability are often a request from building owners and chief information officers. What net zero energy and/or high-performance systems have you recently specified on high-performance campus projects?

Davallou: We used geothermal systems, an enthalpy wheel, and PV for Ohlone College. This was the first community college to achieve LEED Platinum certification in the U.S. It is now a net zero building. Delta Products headquarters is also considered a net zero building with geothermal systems, heat-pump chillers, slab radiant cooling, chilled beams, and PV.

CSE: Many aspects of sustainability (power, HVAC, etc.) require the building facility team to follow certain practices to be effective. What, if anything, can an engineer do to help increase chances of success in this area?

Preteroti: When lighting control systems are installed, meeting with those who manage the systems is extremely important. A system can offer all the capabilities in the world, but if the client/user does not want to or know how to use it, then it will become a source of frustration for everyone. Have clients meet with vendors during the design process to become familiar with the systems, and choose features that meet their goals. Commissioning the system is important for proper functions and ensuring it’s working as intended. When a system is installed, facilitating training helps users understand how the system functions and operates, and how they can tune the system to fit their needs.

Davallou: An engineer should provide test data to the facility engineer for past sustainable projects.

CSE: What types of renewable energy systems have you recently specified to provide power for such projects? This may include photovoltaics, wind turbines, etc.

Davallou: We included PV and geothermal in all College of Marin campuses and Mission College.