Government building design

When your client is the government, engineering design can be tricky, thanks to stepped-up regulations, budgetary concerns, and other considerations. Respondents discuss government, state, municipal, federal, and military facilities.


Respondents: Ian Bost, PE, LEED AP Principal, Mechanical Engineer Baird, Hampton & Brown Inc. Fort Worth, Texas Robert Eichelman, PE, LEED AP Technical Director EYP Architecture & Engineering Albany, N.Y. Paul W. Johnson, PE, LEEP AP BD+C Vice President o


  • Ian Bost, PE, LEED AP, Principal, Mechanical Engineer, Baird, Hampton & Brown Inc., Fort Worth, Texas
  • Robert Eichelman, PE, LEED AP Technical Director, EYP Architecture & Engineering, Albany, N.Y.
  • Paul W. Johnson, PE, LEEP AP BD+C, Vice President of Mechanical Engineering, Wood Harbinger, Bellevue, Wash.
  • Katie McGimpsey, PE, LEED AP, Principal, Affiliated Engineers Inc., Rockville, Md.
  • R. Scott Pegler, PE, LEED AP, Director of Mechanical Engineering, Setty, Fairfax, Va.

Figure 1: The U.S. Navy engaged the engineering team at Wood Harbinger to demolish its outdated Naval Base Kitsap Pier B and replace it with a state-of-the-art pier that better supported its Nimitz class nuclear aircraft carriers, as well as future classCSE: Please describe a recent government or military project you've worked on.

Ian Bost: We have recently designed two local county sub-courthouses. These were both two-story buildings with chilled water variable air volume (VAV) HVAC systems. Both buildings received U.S. Green Building Council LEED certification (Certified and Silver levels).

Paul W. Johnson: To serve the current Nimitz class nuclear aircraft carriers (CVNs) as well as the future class vessels, Naval Base Kitsap's Pier B was demolished and replaced with a new state-of-the-art, 1,325-ft-long by 120-ft-wide concrete pier. Wood Harbinger provided rigorous and well-researched mechanical and electrical design for the extensive changes required by this upgrade. The future class CVNs demand twice the electrical power at three times the voltage, which meant major modifications to the upland underground medium-voltage distribution and mechanical utilities at Pier B.

Several other Navy facilities face the same challenging service demand changes, and Wood Harbinger investigated other upgrade attempts to provide a uniform approach solution to this larger scale issue. Electrical upgrades included a new 60 MVA, 34.5kV/13.8 kV/4.16 kV substation, a new generation of shore power mounds and substations, and changes and rerouting of the cross-base 34.5 kV distribution feeders between substations FG and H to the new 34.5 kV substation. Mechanical utilities distribution for pier and shore-side systems included collection, holding, and transfer (CHT) (septic sewage/saltwater mixture) systems; fresh water supply systems; storm drainage systems; pure water, steam, and pumped condensate systems; compressed air distribution systems; and associated appurtenances. The future class CVNs' electrical requirements dictated a new 60 MVA, 34.5 kV/13.8 kV/4.16 kV substation and a new generation of shore-power mounds and substations. The upgrades required changes and rerouting of the cross-base 34.5 kV distribution feeders between substations FG and H to the new 34.5 kV substation. Substation 73 was replaced with a substation capable of supplying two CVNs with 13.8 kV and 4.16 kV shore power during maintenance. 34.5 kV/480 V substations and distribution were required for AOE and SSBN shore power and industrial power to support maintenance/repair operations. The mechanical distribution of pier and shore-side utility systems included: collection,holding, and transfer (CHT) (septic sewage/saltwater mixture) systems; fresh water supply systems; storm drainage systems; pure water, steam, and pumped condensate systems; compressed air distribution systems; and associated appurtenances. The new water and CHT systems were integrated with the existing systems. The engineering team added fresh water piping and utility connections along the waterfront, and provided drainable spill containment curbing for any drips occurring during hose disconnection. The steam and pumped condensate piping system was also integrated with the existing utilities. Steam piping was routed in a trench including an existing 4-in. pure water converted to a high-pressure return steam pipe. Steam utility connections including steam, high pressure return, and pumped condensate were provided along the pier. The compressed air system was routed in a mechanical vault, and trenches looped and connected to a new 10-in. compressed air main. The compressed air risers along the waterfront included outlets for ship service connection.

Katie McGimpsey: I recently worked on the John Edward Porter Neuroscience Research Center (PNRC) Phase II at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) located in Bethesda, Md. The PNRC Phase II addition is a 5-story, 320,000gsf state-of-the-art research facility that promotes world-class biomedical neuroscience research by enhancing interdisciplinary communication and collaboration. There is a 28,000-sq-ft animal facility and a 7,500-sq-ft imaging and behavioral suite, including an 18.4 T magnet. The building was constructed and is adjoined to an adjacent and occupied building. The central atrium has a 200,000 cfm smoke evacuation system. The design incorporates numerous sustainable initiatives to achieve LEED Gold certification and three Green Globes.

R. Scott Pegler: The most recent project was at the U.S. Census Bureau located in Suitland, Md. The building is just over 1.2 million sq ft. The work consisted primarily of troubleshooting some installation issues that were contributing to excessive equipment vibration.

CSE: Governments and military organizations frequently have to deal with limited budgets. How does an engineer on such a project stretch the engineering dollars-are there some areas where this is easier to accomplish than others?

Robert Eichelman: To effectively address budget constraints on any project, it must be done holistically with all design disciplines, as well as the cost estimator, owner, and construction manager, working together as a team. Initial construction and lifecycle costs for various system options, as well as their relative benefits, must be clearly defined and understood by all stakeholders to allow for informed value assessments. Early on in the process, the team should also discuss work or projects that can be deferred, as well as the approaches to allow for this work in order to minimize costs and impacts to future operations.

McGimpsey: Understanding the project goals and client requirements is especially important when designing to a limited budget. An opportunity to design shell space for a portion of the program presents an option to keep the budget in line, and still be able to maintain the engineering infrastructure integrity.

Johnson: It is most important to first understand the client organization's expectations for both initial capital cost as well as long-term operating costs. We provide a range of options that try to balance initial capital cost with long-term maintenance and operating cost. The least initial capital cost option is normally a code minimum standard. The most cost-effective solution is to establish thorough and agreed-upon goals and expectations at the project outset so that we're only designing it once. It is important to focus on capturing good cost estimates. The more complex the facility, the more crucial it is to get it right the first time because even minor changes can have an impact if systems are intricately interconnected.

Bost: There is a balance between cost and ultimate efficiency for mechanical equipment-finding the sweet spot is a normal project goal. Having the engineering disciplines involved from the very beginning of a project can help with budget establishment, and can be a great step in meeting the owner's goals. It is easier to help the owner understand the possibilities and limitations of systems and equipment when this is done early in the project. On occasion, we become aware that a particular material or system cost has changed relative to comparable systems. By adjusting our specifications, we can help the owner take advantage of a price break that might be missed if every project was just like the last one.

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