Kohler Ronan LLC Consulting Engineers: Western Connecticut State University Visual and Performing Arts Center

New construction at a university performing arts center.

By Kohler Ronan LLC Consulting Engineers August 14, 2014

Engineering firm: Kohler Ronan LLC Consulting Engineers
2014 MEP Giants rank: 93
Project: Western Connecticut State University Visual and Performing Arts Center
Address: Danbury, Conn., U.S.
Building type: Other
Project type: New construction
Engineering services: Electrical/power, fire/life safety, HVAC/mechanical, energy/sustainability, and plumbing/piping
Project timeline: 10/11/2011 to 9/4/2014
MEP/FP budget: $16,000,000


The newly completed Western Connecticut State University Visual & Performing Arts Center incorporates a 350-seat proscenium theater, as well as a 350-seat concert hall and rehearsal studio. Additionally, the facility houses student workshops, a scene shop with dust collection system, a dark room, a metal shop with fume collector, and several support spaces. The 135,000-sq-ft building offers the School of Visual and Performing Arts a much needed, and long overdue, space to call its own. But bringing together art, photography, music, and theater arts under one roof was no small or easy task. The facility consists of several spaces in which acoustics performance is critical. Spaces such as the concert hall, theater, music practice rooms, and a state-of-the-art sound studio demand sound levels not to exceed NC-15 (noise criterion). Achieving this stringent noise requirement is a challenge in itself, given the large ductwork required for low-velocity distribution. Yet, further complicating this project midway through design was the university’s proposed reduction in floor-to-floor height of 2 ft. While the goal of the space reduction was to decrease the project’s construction costs, the side effect was a significant decrease in available space for necessary mechanical equipment, particularly large overhead ductwork. Keeping in mind that the project owner
planned to pursue LEED Silver certification and needed designation as a Connecticut High Performance Building, the challenges facing the project team became exceedingly clear. Fortunately, Kohler Ronan’s engineers proved well equipped and up to the task.


To meet the NC-15 noise criteria, and to accommodate the revised floor-to-floor height reduction, Kohler Ronan’s mechanical team redesigned its initial overhead distribution system, opting instead for underground fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP) ductwork serving displacement systems. This underground labyrinth creatively met the project’s challenges and offered the added benefit of reduced energy usage. Using displacement systems allows for the hot air to stratify above the occupied zone. In areas of high volume, such as theaters and concert halls, significant energy savings is then achieved by conditioning only the occupied zones. There is no need to expend energy or additional costs by treating unoccupied spaces. This feature would also go a long way to helping meet the efficiency standards for LEED Silver and Connecticut High Performance Buildings. Energy modeling was performed to evaluate various systems options and appropriate energy conservation measures. Kohler Ronan’s energy modelers used computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to optimize the under-floor displacement systems to ensure effective air distribution and improved indoor air quality while minimizing fan power. Features implemented throughout the space include: demand control ventilation, which varies the amount of outside air delivered into a given space based on existing CO2 levels, avoiding over-ventilating; energy recovery ventilation, in which plates placed on three air handling units recapture heat and further reduce energy; and thermal ice storage, whereby systems use a chiller to produce ice during off-peak, overnight hours and store it in modular thermal energy storage tanks. The stored ice is subsequently used to provide cooling the following day to meet the building’s air conditioning demands in the most cost-effective and energy-efficient manner possible. Also contributing to energy conservation goals are variable speed pumping, dual fuel boilers, and daylight harvesting controls. All systems may be monitored by the facilities staff via a user-friendly building dashboard workstation. The Western Connecticut State University Visual and Performing Arts Center consumes 28% less energy than the ASHRAE 90.1-2007 

baseline when applying the Appendix G Building Performance Rating Method. This reduced energy consumption avoids 202 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year and equates to a utility cost savings of $68,627 annually. Whole building performance simulation was also performed in accordance with ASHRAE 90.1-2007 Appendix G to demonstrate compliance with the Connecticut High Performance Building standard and earn 9 points under LEED NC 2009 Energy and Atmosphere Credit 1-Optimize Building Performance. Another challenge was met. The Western Connecticut State University Visual and Performing Arts Center is a physically attractive building on the university’s west side campus. It is well integrated into the campus, yet is a standout in terms of its systems design, operations, energy efficiency, and sustainability. Certainly it is a facility capable of becoming a premier arts center in the region.