Finding the Balance: Systems Integration for Seamless Coordination in a Multifunctional Education Facility

by Mohammed Haq, P.E.

This article adapted from a presentation given at the 2015 I2SL Annual Conference, September 21-23 in San Diego, CA.

North Seattle College’s existing Allied Health and Technology Building underwent a major renovation that included a 22,900 SF remodel and 23,100 SF rooftop addition. The resulting 46,000 SF multiuse Health Sciences and Student Resources (HSSR) Building is LEED Gold certified and opened for classes in the Fall of 2014.

North Seattle College Health Sciences and Student ResourcesThe first floor was remodeled to include general classrooms and tutoring areas for the college’s Learning Center, a student commons area, and a full café.

North Seattle College HSSR Building commonsThe new second floor is dedicated to the Human Biology and Science Center, with specialty healthcare learning labs central to the college’s health, medical, and science programs. The simulation environments—including anatomy, physiology, biology, and cadaver labs—recreate real-world conditions for students studying nursing, allied health, and science fields.

North Seattle College nursing program labThe building becomes one fluid space through a central atrium with a “grand staircase” that connects the two floors and creates a dramatic focal point.

North Seattle College HSSR grand staircaseThese interwoven complexities required innovative design and coordination strategies used by the project team to prioritize energy efficiency, maintain a balanced building environment, and support the building’s aesthetic as a revitalized and centralized campus focal point.

Early Collaboration

The diversity of the building’s uses led to a variety of conditions that the building systems would need to accommodate. The design team and Owner participated in early project meetings to examine ways to integrate the many uses of the new building and ensure that all programming needs would be met.

collaborationThrough open communication and collaboration, we addressed concerns and confirmed how the space would be utilized.

Meeting the Nursing Program Needs

Meeting the needs of the nursing program was a primary topic in these early meetings. The project team needed to fully understand the functions of the different spaces and how the different elements needed for the program, such as the cadaver lab and the nursing skills training rooms, would be used, in order to optimally plan layouts, equipment hook ups and fume hood locations, and how to meet the air change rates needed.

The strategy was to get the whole project team in the room so every point of view could be laid out on the table, revealing where there was overlap in priorities and where there was disparities. The Owner’s goal was to ensure that the nursing program met the requirements for accreditation by the Washington State Nursing Commission and Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. This meant the space needed to be properly equipped to meet the learning requirements for accredited programs.

The architect wanted to maintain high ceiling to give the space an open feeling. This would limit the above ceiling space we’d have to work with for the mechanical systems. The lab consultant provided information on where specialty equipment needed to be located or grouped together. This created some “must haves” in the lab layout that we had to work around. Mechanically, we needed as much ceiling space as we could get for the systems and equipment.

Once everyone’s needs were on the table we could mutually come to a compromise that would meet everyone’s needs in the best possible way.

the brightest idea

Our solution was to utilize lowered ceiling soffits in combination with high ceilings. The ductwork, piping and cable tray power was placed in the soffits, while smaller distribution elements could fit in the higher ceiling spaces.

As a team, we committed to the solution that worked the best for everyone, even if it took more work to make it happen. It required a team effort and an understanding and respect for the fact that every decision affects the project team members in a different way.

Lab Systems, Kitchen Systems, and Building Systems, Oh My

The HSSR is purposefully designed to be a centralized hub; a spacious and inviting environment that seems like one incorporated building, though it integrates very different functionalities. With many different spaces with specialty needs comes many different systems. The variety and volume of systems created a lot of equipment fighting for space above the ceiling as well as at the ceiling level.

Capture - cats and system namesJPGThe second floor lab spaces required fume exhaust, deionized water, vaccuum, medical air systems, nitrogen, strict temperature and humidity controls in the cadaver lab. On the first floor, we had all the systems to accommodate the café kitchen, as well as systems to accommodate classrooms and open gathering spaces. Then there’s the standard building systems. The VAV system on the first floor, the connections to the campus chilled water and controls, lighting, a/v systems in the classrooms, security systems, and so on.

Our challenge was to balance the disparate needs of each floor, accommodate all equipment in the space provided, maintain the building environment, and prioritize energy efficiency.

A Balanced Solution

From the mechanical design perspective, we decided the best way to find this balance was by using two separate HVAC systems, one for each floor.

A balanced solution

Our solution converted the existing built up air handling unit system to a variable air volume (VAV) system to serve the first floor of the building. The first floor VAV modifications increased the energy efficiency of the reused existing system without having to completely replace it, saving up-front cost.

We utilized chilled beams and a 100% outside air with heat recovery system in the new upper level, with heat recovery and exhaust pressurization controls in the cadaver lab spaces. Chilled beams are known for their energy efficiency and helped us maintain and efficiency priority while meeting the need for high air change rate in the cadaver lab. They also recirculate their own air, which reduced pumping costs.

Together they provided better thermal comfort for building occupants and maintain a balanced environment within the building.

Campus Coordination

We also had to work out how these systems would integrate with the existing campus systems, primarily the chilled water. During the initial assessment phase, Wood Harbinger’s load calculations determined that with the additional space on the upper level, the campus chilled water system could be utilized for cooling during certain times of the year. This solidified the approach for the loading of the campus chillers during peak times. It also influenced the decision to provide a dedicated chilled water system and a cooling tower for building pre-cooling and priority cooling demand; the campus chilled water is only utilized on an as-needed basis.

connections (2)

We also analyzed the campus direct digital control system’s operation and communication with the existing building. This led to the decision to provide an advance control system for the building’s chilled water system. The chilled water system controls work in concert with the campus chilled water system to coordinate when to provide campus chilled water and when to utilize the dedicated chilled water systems and free cooling from the cooling tower.

Integration through Building Controls

The challenge was to assure these two systems worked together seamlessly despite operating on different HVAC principles. The VAV and chilled beam systems are well-behaved and environmentally controlled through tightly written sequences of operations, strategic balancing of the systems to ensure proper building pressurization, and carefully coordinated advanced building controls.

We utilized the DDC system to its full potential. We wrote sequences down to the individual equipment and systems level to accommodate specific needs, like different operating times. This info which was input into the DDC system, creating a dynamic building that manages the variety of systems automatically rather than the facilities personnel having to manage each individual one.

IMG_3177The controls allow the systems to meet system specialty needs while being energy efficient; neither needed to be sacrificed to achieve the other. They also reduced energy costs, saving the college money and also supporting sustainable operations. Our energy model showed the building operating 40% more efficiently than the typical mixed classroom and lab building.

Through the controls, all systems blend together in the background to serve the physical needs of the building without occupants being aware of any environmental differences floor to floor. This allows students to focus on their studies since the building operates as intended rather than worrying about being too hot or too cold in their space.

Combining New Construction and Renovation

This project entailed both new construction and renovation of existing space, establishing a revitalized and dynamic hub in an otherwise aging campus of static and heavy concrete structures. Once again, finding the balance was the name of the game. With new construction, you have the benefit of a clean slate. With renovation, you have to negotiate around existing systems and weigh the benefits and challenges of existing conditions. In this case, the combination best served the needs of the building and the owner.

Detailed initial systems assessments and the commitment and collaboration of the team helped optimize and expand the existing facility to serve the college’s current and future needs without starting from scratch. It also enable the facilities personnel to operate the building without having to learn all new systems, just some.

We were able to use the existing campus chilled water system, reuse the existing VAV system on the first floor, which saved the college money and enabled them to put those funds towards the specialty systems on the new floor, making them more energy efficient and best serving the needs of the lab spaces.

Construction on an Active Campus

This building is located near the heart of campus and the college was in full operation during design and construction. This created a challenge for the team in accessing the building for construction. During design, the team took this factor into consideration, incorporating phasing and sequencing so that construction impacted the student’s environment as little as possible. There was also collaboration between the architect and contractor to assess options for staging, deliveries, and placing cranes needed for the work to make sure the least impactful but effective option was chosen.

game plan

The team also took future projects and campus modifications into account. We knew the college was planning to do some re-landscaping near the building, so construction crews utilized this area as their staging area, knowing that any damage done as a result of construction wouldn’t require separate repair, as this area was going to be worked on soon anyway. Again, taking a look at all of the needs and requirements created a comprehensive and collaborative solution.

A Truly Collaborative Effort

wordle 2

Throughout the project, the project team made conscious efforts and strategic decisions to work collaboratively with each other in designing building systems that worked well together too. We achieved a level of coordination that supports the holistic feel of the building environment and, true to the vision of the building, presents a seamless and integrated user experience.

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