Designing higher education facilities: Codes and standards

The world is getting more high-tech, and the colleges and universities preparing students to work in an increasingly advanced environment must keep pace. Engineers have a bevy of codes and standards they must adhere to.


David P. Callan, PE, Vice President, McGuire Engineering, ChicagoMichael Chow, PE, CxA, LEED AP BD+C, Member/Owner, Metro CD Engineering, LLC Powell, OhioEssi Najafi, FE, Principal, Global Engineering Solutions, Bethesda, Md.Mike Walters, PE, LEED AP, Principal, Confluenc, Madison, Wis.


  • David P. Callan, PE, Vice President, McGuire Engineering, Chicago
  • Michael Chow, PE, CxA, LEED AP BD+C, Member/Owner, Metro CD Engineering, LLC Powell, Ohio
  • Essi Najafi, FE, Principal, Global Engineering Solutions, Bethesda, Md.
  • Mike Walters, PE, LEED AP, Principal, Confluenc, Madison, Wis.


  • David P. Callan, PE, Vice President, McGuire Engineering, Chicago
  • Michael Chow, PE, CxA, LEED AP BD+C, Member/Owner, Metro CD Engineering, LLC Powell, Ohio
  • Essi Najafi, FE, Principal, Global Engineering Solutions, Bethesda, Md.
  • Mike Walters, PE, LEED AP, Principal, Confluenc, Madison, Wis.

Modern college and university projects typically have advanced research facilities, such as the 160,000-sq-ft New Physical Sciences Complex at the University of Maryland in College Park. The project's first phase includes specialized laboratory spaces, designed with strict criteria for vibration-sensitive and electromagnetic-interference control. Courtesy: Global Engineering SolutionsCSE: What codes, standards, or guidelines do you use as a guide as you work on these facilities? 

Najafi: Our projects incorporate a range of directive requirements, such as client developed standards, industry standards (Sheet Metal & Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association-SMACNA, etc.), performance assessment criteria (such as LEED), as well as current codes: International Code Council (including the International Green Construction Code, IgCC) and ASHRAE.

Chow: Many colleges and universities have their own building design standards. It is important that an engineer checks his specification to ensure the university standards are met. An example is the requirement of a university requiring all technology cabling to be in conduit. An engineer may have a standard specification that allows for conduits to be stubbed up above an accessible ceiling and then use J-hooks. Issues could arise if the specification is not changed.

CSE: Have Energy Star, ASHRAE, U.S. Green Building Council, etc., affected your work on college/university building projects? What are some positive/negative aspects of these guides?

Yes, certainly. ASHRAE standards for building energy efficiency and the LEED rating systems continue to have a significant impact on construction projects. While generally positive, I do think they also sometimes result in forcing an optimization at the building level at the expense of the campus. These campuses are often models of highly efficient district energy systems, and construction projects looking to maximize LEED points may turn to strategies that perform well when viewed through the structure of these systems. The trend in geo-exchange systems, for instance, has gained momentum from these guides, but in the context of a campus environment with district systems we find the strategy is often not the best choice.

Many colleges and universities have green/sustainability initiatives or mandates. For example, a university may have a requirement for LEED Silver certification. A negative of these initiatives/mandates is in one instance the design and construction team are having to complete LEED documentation while the fee percentage for the engineering firm is not increased due to the LEED certification requirement.

Najafi: Sustainable practices have positively influenced our design approaches, inclusive of related issues such as ventilation. The focus has shifted from following prescribed traditional practices to one that prioritizes the reduction of energy use. This not only has been positive in the sustainable building performance, but also has been a catalyst for energizing the creative engineering approach in our field of practice.

CSE: Which code/standard proves to be most challenging in colleges and universities?

With the emergence of the codified sustainability practices represented in the IgCC, there is a matrix of requirements that need to be navigated to determine the best path forward. In one example, with the requirement for air or water side economization as required in the International Energy Conservation Code, for an existing facility we have to use the ASHRAE 90.1 equivalent approach in order to use a variable refrigerant flow (VRF) system. With the IgCC, the situation is more straightforward as a performance-based approach can be sufficient justification to not carrying an air side delivery system.

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