Exploring the high demands for higher education facilities

The design process for higher education facilities has its own set of challenges and requirements. Engineers discuss the current trends, challenges, and experiences with college and university facility projects.


Mark Fisher, PE, LEED AP, Principal, AlfaTech, San Jose, Calif. Scott Foster, PE, LEED AP, Principal, Affiliated Engineers Inc., Chicago Keith Hammelman, PE, Senior Vice President, CannonDesign, Chicago
Tom Hickey, PE, Plant and Building Services Market Leader, Stanley Consultants, Muscatine, Iowa James Newman, PE, CEM, BEMP, LEED AP BD+C, High Performance Design Team, Leader, EYP Architecture & Engineering, Boston Jose I. Torres, PE, MBA, Project Manager/Mechanical Engineer, RMF Engineering Inc., Raleigh, N.C.


Mark Fisher, PE, LEED AP, Principal, AlfaTech, San Jose, Calif.

Scott Foster, PE, LEED AP, Principal, Affiliated Engineers Inc., Chicago

Keith Hammelman, PE, Senior Vice President, CannonDesign, Chicago

Tom Hickey, PE, Plant and Building Services Market Leader, Stanley Consultants, Muscatine, Iowa

James Newman, PE, CEM, BEMP, LEED AP BD+C, High Performance Design Team, Leader, EYP Architecture & Engineering, Boston

Jose I. Torres, PE, MBA, Project Manager/Mechanical Engineer, RMF Engineering Inc., Raleigh, N.C.

CSE: What’s the No. 1 trend you see today in the design of college and university buildings?

Mark Fisher: The trend we are currently seeing in college projects is an increase in the use of design-build as a delivery method. As a consultant, we are being asked to develop standards for campuses as well as basis of design documents for various individual projects that are to be completed on a design-build basis.

Scott Foster: The top trend we’re seeing is energy efficiency, with universities’ sustainable leaders having greater influence over acceptance of newer systems or engineering approaches.

Keith Hammelman: College and university buildings cover a wide range of building types, from residences to student unions and dining halls, athletic facilities, classroom buildings, offices, laboratories, and physical plant buildings, just to mention a few. These multiple building types are further complicated by multiple project types that include new facilities, renovated facilities, and/or additions. All of this contributes to a scenario that makes it difficult to identify a single common design trend. That being said, one common characteristic that applies to the vast majority of university and college buildings is the desire to incorporate systems and equipment that provide the lowest total cost of ownership over an extended lifespan. It is common for colleges and universities to maintain their facilities for extensive durations and using their own maintenance personnel; this increases the importance of equipment durability, ease of maintenance, and operational efficiency. Understanding the total lifecycle cost, including potential residual value for system components that are reused after the initial equipment is replaced, is an extremely important assessment to college and university facilities personnel in determining systems to be used.

James Newman: A primary trend in the design of college and university buildings is the strong emphasis on combining innovative and aesthetically pleasing architecture with the strategic integration of sustainable and high-performance design features.

Jose I. Torres: University projects are focusing less on achieving U.S. Green Building Council LEED certification and more on following LEED’s principles. In North Carolina, all new state-owned buildings are required to follow the LEED Silver guidelines but are not required to be registered. The cost of registering a LEED project to the Green Building Certification Inc. is small when compared to the associated consult fees for compiling and documenting the LEED-compliance process. Many of our university owners prefer to invest that money into the construction of the building.

CSE: What other trends should engineers be aware of for such projects in the near future (1 to 3 years)?

Tom Hickey: Building mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems supplied by central heating and cooling facilities should be designed to optimize efficiency for the benefit of the entire campus, not just the individual building. Campus architects and their MEP designers need to determine if a building will be supplied through a central campus system and optimize their designs accordingly. Sufficient analysis must be performed to not only result in an efficient climate control scheme for the building, but to take advantage of the redundancy and reliability of central facilities and accomplish efficiency in the utility distribution systems supplying the building.

Foster: Trends that engineers should be aware of in working on higher education projects begin with alternative delivery models and contracting arrangements, such as integrated project delivery (IPD), design-build, design-assist, and public-private partnerships. In regards to design, flexibility for future programs is increasingly a driving design factor affecting physical layout and system capacities. There’s an increase in utility metering and monitoring for energy analysis and operational optimization. Related to that, controls integration is leveraging operational tools and maintenance systems for greater efficiencies. These complexities are requiring the integration of BIM into operational procedures. And we’re seeing more incorporation of design-trend research into the planning/programming process.

Torres: University building owners are proactively comparing the energy models provided during design with their monthly energy consumption. Many of our university clients will request a 6-month and 12-month review of energy models and their collected metering data. The university engineers and the design team will review all MEP systems that are operating higher than expected. The team will then discuss the input assumptions made in the energy model and how to improve those assumptions for the next project.

Fisher: We expect an increased emphasis on energy efficiency in all areas. In addition, onsite power generation will be a growth area as universities look to take a lead in microgrid deployment.

CSE: Please describe a recent college/university facility project you’ve worked on.

Hammelman: A recent college project that we have been involved in is the Ohlone Community College Academic Core Building Project in Fremont, Calif. This project consisted of creating a new front door to the campus and involved a total of three new buildings. These buildings contain administration space, classrooms, lecture halls, general science labs, anatomy and physiology labs, and a new central utility plant for the campus. The central utility plant consists of three reversible chillers integrated into a geothermal bore field to provide both heating and cooling to the entire campus. In addition to the high-performance central utility plant, we used a heat-recovery system to provide heating for the campus’ outdoor pool and incorporated LED lighting throughout the entire project.

Torres: RMF Engineering recently worked on a project for the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine Anatomy Laboratory in Raleigh. We renovated an existing anatomy lab to accommodate the increase in medical students at the university and to also reduce the formaldehyde exposure in the lab. RMF Engineering provided a new exhaust system, retrofitted the existing cadaver coolers, and provided new variable air volume (VAV) boxes with laminar-flow supply-air devices.

Hickey: The University of Illinois at Chicago Richard J. Daley Library HVAC upgrades we performed included preliminary design, detailed design, and construction support services for the replacement of four air handling units (AHUs). Upgrades also included converting old multizone, dual-duct systems to variable speed, single-supply systems for improved efficiency.

Fisher: SOKA University in Aliso Viejo, Calif., is a private liberal arts university. We are currently completing a design of a new, 3-story science laboratory and a new 3-story dormitory. The HVAC system for the science building is a four-pipe chilled/hot-water system with VAV distribution, including variable-volume-flow fume hoods in the laboratories. The offices will have a combination VAV and active chilled-beam distribution in the offices and non-lab areas. The building will have heat recovery, solar thermal domestic hot water, and photovoltaic (PV) solar onsite power generation. Chilled water will be from the campus central plant and hot water from gas-fired condensing boilers with variable flow. Both buildings will have LED lighting with wireless controls on each fixture. The residential building will have a variable refrigerant flow system.

Foster: The new science building in Grayslake, Ill., is a prototype for the College of Lake County to optimize energy savings through a variety of cutting-edge energy-conservation measures (ECMs). The 42,000-sq-ft lab building was created from a proposition that the most effective form of energy recovery is to not use the energy in the first place. VAV fume hoods in the labs are coupled with variable-speed lab exhaust fans. Thereafter, heating and cooling loads are served by a central hybrid geo-exchange system containing 48 vertical wells each at a depth of 490 ft. A roof-mounted 48-kW PV array provides the building with a renewable source of electricity generation while offsetting 6% of the building’s annual energy cost. The building documents 66% energy savings as compared with an ASHRAE 90.1:2007—Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings baseline building and is currently in the process of earning LEED Platinum certification.

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