Integrating the Workplace

Office modernizations rarely rise to the level of a truly integrated engineering project. The reasons vary, but usually the utilitarian, cost-conscious aims of upgrades lead to well-intentioned shortcuts that undermine the long-term value of a workplace.Such can hardly be stated about the recently renovated general offices for Southern California Edison (SCE) in Rosemead, Calif.

By C.C. Sullivan, Editorial Director December 1, 2000

Office modernizations rarely rise to the level of a truly integrated engineering project. The reasons vary, but usually the utilitarian, cost-conscious aims of upgrades lead to well-intentioned shortcuts that undermine the long-term value of a workplace.

Such can hardly be stated about the recently renovated general offices for Southern California Edison (SCE) in Rosemead, Calif., which earned an Integrator Award in the commercial category for SCE and The Austin Company, Irvine, Calif. The facilities count on state-of-the-art workplace technologies-and best-practice officing solutions-to serve the corporate staff of this major utility. In developing the phased retrofit, decisions were made by a highly integrated, multidisciplinary team comprising a design-builder, specialty consultants, a major systems-furniture maker and a hands-on, multifaceted facilities department.

The results are equally well integrated, bridging building systems and components as handily as the project-team members cross professional and trade divisions usually held as sacrosanct.

The most revealing example may be in the delivery of power, data and environmental conditioning to the desktop, says Kenric B. Stone, vice president and manager of operations at The Austin Co. “It’s an extra spin on integration: We’re not just tying together mechanical and electrical systems, but we’re making the power system, telecommunications, lighting and HVAC [heating, ventilation and air-conditioning] systems an intimate part of workstations,” Stone explains. “The whole issue of the project is the use of PCs [personal computers] in the environment and what growth might mean to power requirements.”

In fact, the change of work tools was a major issue for the SCE facility, which was designed in 1971 to house a remote mainframe computer connected to client workstations. “We had an aging infrastructure in the main building that required major electrical upgrades and more cooling,” recalls Glen C. Donley, manager of facility operations in SCE’s corporate real estate division.

More power for PCs

Contrary to conventional wisdom, moving to a PC-based environment meant that more power, not less, would be needed. “SCE had been finding that each new generation of PC needed more power, with peripheral devices such as CD-ROM drives, Zip drives and larger monitors, and laser printers being brought to more desktops,” says Stone. “So we planned our loads from the workstations all the way back, and looked at the wiring capacity of the systems furniture, and then the circuiting configuration.”

“We had as many as six workstations per circuit in the old days,” says David L. Toth, manager of design and construction with SCE. “Now, with the new equipment requiring more amps, we were finding it was more necessary to have two circuits per workstation, each with its own neutral and ground.”

To support the workstations, says Donley, “We installed new category-5 and electrical cabling in every quadrant. Overall, we had plenty of power and transformation, but what we didn’t have was good downstream distribution panels and wiring. There was a lot of daisy-chaining and not a lot of home runs left after installing thousands of computers over the years, and we needed 5 amps or more for each PC alone.”

The major system changes constituted an entirely new infrastructure, says Rodney A. Sleeter, SCE’s facility manager in operations and maintenance: “We changed out the original transformers with new K-19-rated transformers with a 200-percent neutral rating to handle computer loads and harmonics,” he points out. “We have 12 new transformers per floor and between 26 and 28 new electrical panels per floor. We have plenty of offices and what seems like an excessive amount of breaker space.”

“The new electrical distribution also allowed us to put those computers on our emergency circuits,” says Toth, adding that an underfloor duct-type system distributes electrical and data wiring to the workstations.

The building was originally designed with a large, doughnut-shaped floorplate of about 100,000 square feet with four central cores and enclosed offices arranged at the perimeter of the building. The redesign converted the spaces to open office systems with limited enclosed offices, conference rooms and other support spaces at its four central cores (see “Opening Up the Office,” below).

“Opening up the building was the biggest plus,” in enhancing the work environment, says Gregory S. Clamp, an architect and director of design with The Austin Co. “We used decorative elements in the ceiling to break up the huge floor plate and to improve wayfinding.” The suspended ornamental accents were off-the-shelf solutions, says Clamp, but required seismic restraints to dampen swinging during Southern California tremors.

Flexible officing and cabling

The new design relies heavily on a flexible system of office partitions and workstations that supports anticipated power and telecommunications needs, says Stone: “The workstations’ common spline and modular design already has the infrastructure in place, so that changes can take place without affecting systems-furniture ‘backbone.’ For example, they are capable of going to two computers per workstation, if they want to.”

According to Steven Hooper, P.E., a project manager with The Austin Co., SCE has standardized on four category-5 outlets per workstation-three for data and one for voice-and has recently installed a new phone switch. “We added some larger conduits for cabling runs over hallways, interconnecting with the existing underfloor raceways,” he says. “In the main building, they had a cellular floor in the concrete slabs.”

The key to the floor layouts was leaving the underfloor cabling grid and electrical/telecom closets accessible, says Brenda Laffin, project manager with SCE. “We avoid building on the telecom trenches so we don’t have to tear down the furniture to access the trenches, and the telecom closets can’t be moved,” she says. “The design for each quadrant starts out by verifying where the closets, electrical rooms and restrooms are, and the rest is an open floor plate; and then we locate the cafe and other hardwall workspaces.”

Rethinking HVAC delivery

The new open-plan office design also demanded a major rethinking of HVAC delivery, says The Austin Co.’s Stone. “The building had been designed and zoned for closed-office environments; now we are adding more people, PCs and heat load,” he says. “With the systems furniture, the relationship with zoning had to be rethought and digitally controlled.” Each quadrant, which holds about 120 employees, is chopped up into as many as 36 zones and fitted with digital controls and temperature sensors in return air ducts that control the start and stop of major equipment and outside-air dampers.

To serve the quadrants, says Toth, the central plant was retrofitted. “The existing distribution system was pretty clean, but we basically took the existing chillers and cut them free, and used the same distribution system,” he explains.

“The original smaller rooftop chillers were aging and had other inefficiencies that come with that kind of system,” adds Hooper. “We determined it was better to install a central plant, and it has been on line for a few months now.” The design team specified a minimum load of between 550 and 600 tons generated by chillers using R-134a HCFC, or hydrochlorofluorocarbon refrigerant. The compressors are run by 953-hp motors on 4,160-volt drives.

According to Hooper and SCE’s Sleeter, the facility has had enough colder weather to determine whether the reject heat exchangers are working as designed-and enough warm weather to gauge preliminary savings on the chilled-water side, which is a primary- and secondary-loop configuration.

“When water comes back from the building, it goes into the plant and directly into the primary loop, where it’s pumped through the chiller and is available to be pumped back into the building,” Sleeter explains. “The secondary pump pumps against end-of-line pressure and is offset by outside-air temperature; so as it gets warmer outside, we push more gpm toward the building.”

The new system short-circuits condenser water en route to the cooling towers, where it is filtered, stripped of Btus and run back into the building into heat exchangers and redistributed through the hot-water heating system. “The transition between going into and out of heat recovery is seamless,” says Sleeter. “You have to actually be watching the controls to see which mode it’s in.”

The new controls system for the facility, according to Steven Long, P.E., systems integrator with Consolidated Data Systems, Anaheim, Calif., is a unique mix of a Windows-based human-machine interface and an open-architecture I/O server that is more typical of plant automation. “They wanted a system that was highly fault-tolerant, because they were going to use it for both HVAC and fire- and life-safety control in their data-processing center,” Long explains (see “Plant Controls in the Home office?” on page 29).

In conjunction with the central plant, the team developed a separate emergency-generator building located near the main facility in an existing landscaping berm. In addition to bringing emergency capacity, says Hooper, “This structure also very elegantly and unobtrusively incorporated the entry point for chilled- and hot-water piping interconnects.”

Moving to the mainstream

Another challenge of the modernization was maintaining both security and comfort, says SCE’s Donley, which meant a significant cultural change for the company. “The original 1969 design was a freer, open-campus look, so we had many entrances and exits to the building,” he explains. “Now we had to figure out a way of closing up the building without totally inconveniencing people, so we added revolving doors and card swipes at the front door-that was very new for the Edison Company.”

“At all main entrances there are optical turnstiles that allow for employee throughput at walking speed, and leave an audit trail of who have entered and exited the building,” says Howard McLeod, director of projects at Rosemead-based Ashland Integrated, a fire and security consulting firm. SCE also updated their older, black-and-white closed-circuit television cameras to about 100 new color cameras, about 20 percent of which have pan-tilt-zoom capability.

The other major life-safety upgrade took advantage of addressable fire-protection technology, which is now a mainstream, cost-effective specification, says The Austin Co.’s Hooper: “Edison had full coverage with standard devices, so we upgraded those to addressable devices for individual maintenance purposes and so they can adjust sensitivity based on dust accumulation,” he explains. “We have used addressable devices in some SCE projects as small as five zones, because they are such a good value.”

“The addressable system allows SCE to pinpoint a fire condition to between 15 and 20 feet,” adds Joseph Cleveland, a design engineer with Ashland Integrated, adding that the detectors combine photoelectric, ionization and heat-detection technologies. “We placed a secondary fire panel in each of the quadrants at the center to allow for secondary distribution, and each panel can accept well over 200 detectors.” Other benefits of the fire-safety upgrades included smaller panel sizes, point-to-point wiring rather than home runs to each panel and upgrade capability to add, for example, new strobes in conference rooms for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, McLeod notes.

Baseline or better

While other parts of the modernization program were intended to bring the facility up to current office standards-for example, the lighting specifications are industry baseline, calling for T8 fluorescent fixtures on electronic ballasts, with a single standard task light built into the 4-ft. shelving units in the workstations-the project overall brings SCE into a new era.

“The project really brings the corporation into the 21stcentury and changes our workplace culture,” says SCE’s Toth. “I like to believe that we’re on the cutting edge when it comes to the workspace.”

The Austin Co.’s Stone agrees. “One thing that is unique about the project is that it is driven by the adaptive reuse of office environment; it went from a rabbit warren to flexible modern workplace. Coupled with the technology changes, the office approach really put in place a lot of the decisions for the mechanical and electrical systems.”