Learning how to engineer colleges, universities better: Automation, controls and technology

Read about emerging trends in college and university buildings, and learn about the emerging trends impacting their design

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer October 24, 2019


Travis Fletcher 


Since joining the firm in 2013, Wegner has worked on a range of projects, focusing on life sciences, biotechnology, pharmaceutical, aerospace and other high-tech projects. His expertise includes site utility master planning, alternative energy solutions, biocontainment and more. 

CSE: From your experience, what systems within a college or university project are benefiting from automation that previously might not have been? 

Piluski: Previously optional lighting control systems have become a base requirement of the modern energy codes. The rollout and integration of lighting control systems provides adaptive spaces that react to changes in natural lighting conditions and occupancy without supervision of building operators. In the modern campus environment, incorporating differing teaching delivery methods and flexible schedules, advanced lighting controls seamlessly adjust to the use, occupancy and schedule of the building. 

Fryman: Meeting room reservation systems are becoming very common and require power and data infrastructure to avoid it looking like an afterthought by the building owners/users. It is important to understand how the components of these systems are incorporated into the building and planned for by the electrical and technology design team. 

OConnell: We are noticing that residential dwelling units that are air conditioned taking advantage of window sensors that automatically shut the air conditioning unit off when the windows are open. From a lighting standpoint, the use of occupancy and vacancy sensors have become the standard, in some cases, these are sensors tied into the terminal box supplying conditioned air to the space, minimizing or shutting off the airflow to the zone when unoccupied.  

CSE: What types of system integration and/or interoperability issues have you overcome for these projects and how did you do so? 

Piluski: The challenge of mixed building controls on older and evolving campuses remains an issue for new projects and integration of new systems. It is important to evaluate these systems and platforms early in the design process to identify incompatibility of programming language and proprietary devices. As engineers we should take a long-term look at the campus and buildings we are working on and make recommendations for upgrades as part of the current project or longer term master planning, to address these issues, whether we will be the engineer working on the next project or not.  

Fryman: It is becoming common to plan for an integrated building control system that uses a common cabling backbone. The first time that I had a project where this was the plan, the HVAC controls system was going to use the fiber backbone for connection of all building automation system controls throughout the building. Unfortunately, the scheduling of the installation of the fiber backbone was later in the construction schedule than the scheduled testing of the BAS controllers for communications and pre-startup checks of HVAC equipment.  

Some sort of cabling needed to exist from controller to controller and to the head-end equipment, so the HVAC contractor ran his own cabling to get the system up in timely manner to maintain the construction schedule. This cabling then remained in place as the permanent backbone for the system. These were unexpected costs that the contractor had to absorb from contingency funds. It is not uncommon to have the fiber backbone put in very late in the project construction to avoid any damage from construction activities. The solution to this issue would simply have been to have a detailed schedule for mechanical controls installation and testing included in the overall project critical path scheduling. 

CSE: Is your team using building information modeling in conjunction with the architects, trades and owner to design a project? Describe an instance in which youve turned over the BIM to the facility maintenance team for long-term operations and maintenance or measurement and verification.  

OConnell: has yet to turn over the BIM model for this purpose. While typically 80% of the projects in our office are BIMwe have used software, such as Revit, as a tool to reduce conflicts between trades and more accurately coordinate building MEP systems. Many times, we have provided this BIM model to contractors as an aid for them produce coordination drawings. 

FrymanOur company has produced all projects for well more than a decade using 3D modeling software, designing literally hundreds of projects. We committed to producing all significant new projects using Revit in 2011 and has remained true to that commitment, with the majority of our work being in Revit. Our mechanical team uses BIM through all phases of the project to develop system configurations, risers, space planning for mechanical areas and above ceiling coordination. Mechanical systems are coordinated with structural and architectural features in real time, decreasing conflicts during construction. It also allows the design team to optimize building systems more effectively and provides a visual view of the system to consider installation and maintenance of the systems. 

The majority of the issues dealt with during a typical design center around coordination with structural components and other engineering systems. Conflicts are easily seen visually and are corrected during the design and not during construction. The one model of the building allows multiple options to be reviewed quickly to determine which correction is the best for the system and operation of the facility. As the system is modified in an area, the rest of the model updates accordingly and any cascading changes or issues that may arise from the original change can be viewed and corrected also. In a nonBIM design, many times these cascading changes are not all seen and cause issues in the field. 

Plumbing systems are coordinated with the mechanical ductwork both horizontally and vertically. Using the model has allowed mechanical spaces and chases to be optimized for space while still maintaining the required clearance for maintenance. Multiple routes and designs can be reviewed for the systems to determine the best layout for cost and coordination of the building systems. 

Our electrical team uses BIM through all phases of the project similar to the mechanical counterparts. From a coordination standpoint, routes of large conduit, raceways and utility cable trays are added to the model and coordinated with the other trades. Electrical rooms are laid out providing the required code clearances and maintenance clearances while optimizing floor plan space. Light fixtures are modeled to coordinate with other ceiling mounted devices and to verify sight lines and AV coordination in spaces with suspended, pendant-mounted fixtures. 

TLC has learned the importance of making the transition from a 3D model to 2D construction documents for the contractors uses in permitting and construction. The process of document review and construction has not moved into the electronic 3D realm by many entities yet; therefore, it is necessary to assure that the printed construction documents clearly convey the construction details in the 2D format required. This process must be considered from the beginning of the creation of the 3D model, to assure that the final products are usable. No matter how detailed and accurate the 3D model is, if the information is not conveyed to all entities in a clear and accurate way, it is useless. 

It is important for the construction team to be involved in constructability review processes of the BIM products. A collaborative process of model review, clash detection and correction between the design and construction phases can be very beneficial. We have learned that this process is most effective when the members of the construction team have a good knowledge of the installation means and methods of the specific disciplines that are being evaluated for conflicts. This allows for field issues to be resolved by those familiar with how the equipment will actually be installed and that challenges commonly encountered by the installing subcontractor in the field are accounted for in the model, limiting conflicts in the field that impact the schedule and often result in change orders.  

Piluski: In almost all cases, our team is designing in a shared model with the architect to provide an integrated design to the contractors with primary coordination and clash detection already completed. The traditional shop drawing production phase has now become the time for preparation the MEP and fire protection BIM model, which will be prepared with the coordination and review of the design team. I have not had a facility maintenance team that is equipped to use these final models for long-term operations, but we would gladly provide this similar to how we currently provide PDF and DWG coordinated files for final record. 

CSE: Cybersecurity and vulnerability are increasing concerns. Are you encountering worry/resistance around wireless technology and IoT as the prevalence of such features increases? How are you responding to these concerns? 

Piluski: Absolutely, as training in advanced technologies takes more focus on wireless and web-based approaches, the question has become how to host these training systems on the campus technology infrastructure. For the Harper College BEST Lab project, using wired and wireless building controls and design as a key aspect of the curriculum, it was decided to build dedicated servers for these systems to prevent back-door access to sensitive college data maintained on the main data servers. This was a first for my team and for the information technology staff at Harper College, but ultimately a solution that provided full functionality and security was built. 

CSE: How has bring your own device affected the design of technology systems in campus buildings? 

Fletcher: BAS are web-based, which gives facilities the capability to log on anywhere from any device as opposed to having to sit in front of a desktop computer at the central plant. Additionally, were seeing campuses choosing to have their own dedicated BAS network and moving to fiber as campuses gain more technology and larger systems. 

Sherman: This may not necessarily be directly related to the technology systems in campus buildings, but every owner/architect now thinks that we need to provide universal serial bus charging throughout the facility. I keep pushing back since the USB specifications keep changing. We are soon to be onto the fourth standard (USB4). With each iteration the capabilities of the USB system changes, not to mention the development and deployment of newer technologies like USB-C. We are chasing after an ever-changing technology, especially since USB is really a standard based on data transfer, not charging. The Type A plug hasnt changed in a long time. I feel you are better off using the power adapter that the manufacturer gave you so that you can get the correct voltage and amperage to your device. 

Fryman: Every project now has to have a fairly high capacity for its wireless networks. Performing studies of wireless access point layouts and coverage maps with anticipated quantity of users and the likely use of the network by those users, determined by input from the owner, is critical for every space. As important as the Wi-Fi network is, if students cannot plug in and recharge, then the Wi-Fi is only good as long as the batteries in their devices last. In nearly every space in higher education buildings, a conversation needs to be had during programming about how many plug-in locations there will be and where they are. Some auditorium seating can even be specified with 120volt receptacles and/or USB power outlets integral to the seating. Buildings are planned with crush spaces where students just hang out between classes and these spaces must have plenty of plug-in spots. The electrical loads are not high, but the conveniences of quantities and locations makes all the difference in the world to the students daily routines. In study spaces and conference rooms, power in the furniture limits the fight for the nearest seat to the wall outlet. Plans need to reflect floor outlet connections for furniture mounted outlets in open areas. 

CSE: How has your technology team worked with facility managers to implement security technology (biometrics, card-scan, etc.) in college and university projects? 

OConnell: Our team regularly works with the campus in-house security staff to ensure that the infrastructure meets the schools needs. Many campuses that we have worked with have in-house staff that install security devices such as cameras and card-scan entry panels themselves. Providing the appropriate infrastructure for these devices is important since most of this work occurs during the late stage of construction where many ceilings have been closed and substantial finish work has been already completed. 

Fryman: Most large higher education institutions have some sort of smart card technology already in use for student identification, food plans, printing costs and, in some cases, access controls. We have recently helped two different institutions transition from a key type system to proximity cardbased access controls systems. With the need for security and lockdown capabilities, electronic locking access systems with electrically activated locks can be tied into fire alarm and mass notification systems allow for the best of all scenarios. With access in housing to different residents every semester, being able to grant and deny access by simply changing it in the computer is desired. The same goes for access to sensitive areas like laboratory prep and storage areas. Coordinating the access card system specified with the institutions existing card system to avoid having to issue new or multiple cards is a big advantage. Working out those details up front with the facilities staff is paramount. Access controls managed with proximity cards, keychain fobs, keypads and even apps on a smartphone are the possibilities that we are offering to our higher education clients.  

Piluski: Card scan has become the minimum standard for access control and security. We have included this on all projects as a way of tracking movement throughout a building and providing a simple way to offer tiers of access as well as addressing employee and contractor turnover on campus.