Higher Education Case Study: All About Business

By Drew Robb

Grand Valley
Photo: Grand Valley State University.

From the July/August 2014 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

In 2013, Grand Valley State University (GVSU) opened its 11th LEED certified building, the 127,643 square foot L. William Seidman Center designed to meet the expansion needs of its Seidman College of Business. The planning process for this facility, located on the university’s downtown Grand Rapids, MI campus, was far smoother than the first time the university went for LEED certification in 2004.

“Our first LEED certification was an effective disaster for the university,” says James R. Moyer, associate vice president for facilities planning at GVSU. “That was the contractor’s first LEED building, the design firm’s first LEED building, and the university’s first LEED building. It earned LEED Gold, but it was a difficult building to own and operate.”

The problem, he explains was that LEED certification took priority over other aspects. In some cases, this meant paying more for materials or equipment to gain a small bit of energy efficiency. That first building also included some materials that (while ecologically sound) did not stand up well to the wear of throngs of students or required far greater care and maintenance.

The university has learned a lot since then about how to balance environmental factors with costs, comfort, aesthetics, and usability. Now, when a material is selected to meet LEED requirements, it must also meet GVSU’s maintenance standards. For instance, the Seidman Center achieves 38% lower energy usage than the baseline ASHRAE standards, according to a study by the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Contributing to this scenario is the use of a high efficiency variable air volume (VAV) HVAC system with occupancy and CO2 sensors, a centralized humidification system, perimeter heating, and other methods. And this was achieved without excessive costs and while meeting GVSU’s operations and maintenance requirements.

Controlling Energy (And Other) Costs

In 1960, the Michigan legislature chartered GVSU to meet the education needs of the state’s second largest metropolitan region. The university serves about 25,000 students at its main 1,322 acre campus in Allendale and its 40 acre, 11 building campus in downtown Grand Rapids.

Moyer oversees the university’s building program, including land acquisition, new buildings, major renovations, design, selecting contractors, and planning occupant moves when a new building opens. He is also responsible for balancing the needs of the university with the available funds, whether coming from tuition, the state, or private donors. One of the challenges is to control energy costs.

“We realized there was no way we could control the price of fuel. That is a free market activity,” says Moyer. “But we could control how much of it we use, so we started a university-wide effort to reduce our consumption.”

He points out that the university operates under a relatively fixed income—the tuitions and state funding are set well in advance. Unlike a grocer, for example, who can raise the price of peas to pay the electric bill when rates rise, Moyer’s prices are fixed and he can’t lower the classroom temperatures 10° in winter if heating costs rise. One strategy has been to design more efficiency into a building, which shifts part of the energy cost to an initial capital expenditure and reduces the risk of later energy price fluctuations.

This decision to reduce energy costs led the university to construct its first LEED building in 2004 that, as mentioned, was a disaster. But that didn’t mean the university abandoned its energy efficiency efforts. In fact, after that first LEED project GVSU set LEED Silver as the standard for all new buildings. But it wasn’t going to prioritize energy efficiency over all else.

“For our next building we went back to our roots and said ‘let’s build the best building possible within our ability to own and operate it,’” says Moyer. “It was a slightly different philosophy because in the material and control selection process we were choosing things we could own and operate long-term with limited funding. Using this method we were able to build a LEED Silver certified building with very little increase in overall costs.”

Right from the start of that second LEED pursuit, the university specified that materials should be LEED compliant, but primarily had to meet its standards for maintenance. It also put in a process where, from the early design stages, the suppliers and contractors had to submit LEED documentation as a shop drawn submittal, as opposed to gathering the data at the end of the project.

“Today, it has become a LEED prerequisite to have a process all the way through, but we were doing that in 2005,” says Moyer.

Applying Lessons Learned

This financial and energy efficiency experience came in handy when in late 2009 the idea to build the Seidman Center came to fruition. The university had grown and needed room for further expansion. “The challenge was how do we fund it; can we do it without 100% borrowing; can we get the community to fund it?” says Moyer. “The Seidman College building was ideally suited to meet both our space needs at our downtown campus as well as something the philanthropy community could support.”

Grand Valley Auditorium
Named for L. William Seidman, a Grand Rapids, MI native and former head of the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (1985-1991), this new GVSU facility is a venue for the academic and business communities to interact. (Photo: Grand Valley State University.)

Of the $40 million price tag for the building, $25 million came from approximately 600 private donors, with the university borrowing the remaining amount. Not only did this provide a new home for the business college, but also its former quarters could now be used by other university programs including the College of Education and the College of Community and Public Service.

Currently, 3,000 students are enrolled at GVSU’s Seidman College. The first floor of the new facility contains offices for student advising services, a café, a 200 seat multipurpose room, and six outreach centers to connect the business and university communities. As students enter the facility, they see a stock ticker, a live display of how some of the biggest companies are faring on financial markets that day.

The second floor is devoted to study with 15 classrooms and 15 team rooms that students can schedule with their smart devices. The classrooms are equipped with “classroom capture” technology that records the instructor and smartboard on a split screen, so students can review the data on their laptops. There are two computer labs for learning business software and a 42 seat trading room with seven Bloomberg trading terminals.

The faculty and staff offices are on the third floor, and the fourth floor contains the trustees’ boardroom and the mechanical room.

On the site chosen was an old A&P grocery warehouse along the Grand River. Rather than demolishing the building and hauling those materials away, the concrete was ground up and compacted to form a weight transfer platform that supports the new building. This approach also raised the floor grade so it is above the flood zone of the river. Groundbreaking was held in May 2011, and the building was formally dedicated in October 2013, though it had been occupied since May.

The four story, Prairie style building uses an “S” plan with two courtyards to maximize natural light. The south facing classrooms and offices afford views of the river and city, and the south courtyard features steps and ramps leading to the riverwalk.

“It is a beautiful building in a high visibility site right on the river,” says Paul McWatters, president of Macaire, Inc., which supplied the fog system for the facility. “Once you are in the building there is an incredible view of the river.”

While originally slated for LEED Silver certification, the Seidman Center achieved LEED Gold. In addition to the HVAC efficiency outlined below, the university received credit for converting an urban brownfields site and for reusing 23,980 tons of concrete from the old warehouse. Other sustainable features include a shower and changing room on the first floor for bike riders, a green roof covering part of the first floor of the building to provide a landscaped terrace, and a charging station for electric cars.

This project is the fifth GVSU building to achieve LEED Gold, with six other university facilities certified at the Silver level.

Aesthetics And Energy Savings

As Moyer points out, when building the Seidman Center the university didn’t try to achieve energy savings at the cost of additional maintenance. Nor did it sacrifice appearance or comfort, with GVSU specifying that HVAC equipment not detract from the building’s design.

“There is no place in the building where you can see any mechanical traces from the outside, which made the design challenging,” says Rod Boerman, senior mechanical engineer at Diekema Hamann Engineering, who did the initial mechanical design work for the building when he was with Integrated Architecture.

Grand Valley State University
Photo: Grand Valley State University.

Since no equipment was to be visible, a section of the roof was designed to be removed so equipment can be loaded through the opening and slid into position in the mechanical room. The cooling tower is hidden inside a 120′ high tower, a prime architectural feature.

The same applies with the interior. The entire building has perimeter fin tube radiation heating, so the heating cycle can function without air, and these are hidden from behind architectural features. All the vents for the forced air system are hidden under soffits. “It is a very decorative interior with ceilings as high as possible,” says Boerman. “In a lot of places the ducts were squashed: it was a special challenge to make them fit with what was there.”

The three condensing boilers, the condensing pumps, the chiller, the chilled water pumps, the heating water pumps, and the humidification system were all installed in a common mechanical room on the fourth floor. To prevent noise transfer, the mechanical room is on a floating slab.

There are six air handling units throughout the building, using chilled water from the single chiller; and there is full airside economizing in case the chiller goes down. There are 168 VAV boxes with about 1,500 grills, registers, and diffusers. Dual fans are used in the air handling units to reduce noise, and there are sound attenuators in the ductwork to keep air noise to a minimum. “An acoustic engineer is employed quite early on our projects,” says Moyer. “We attack the sound issue right up front as opposed to after we move in.”

Controlling Humidity

Boerman initially looked at installing a steam humidification system, but couldn’t make it work with the building design. After talking with McWatters, the decision was made to install a fog system. “I had never done a central humidification system like this,” says Boerman. “We skid mounted the humidification system and distributed piping to all the air handlers in the building.”

Although this arrangement was new to Boerman it wasn’t new to GVSU, which uses fogging humidification in five of its buildings. “[It] is a wonderful system,” says Moyer. “The first time we used it was in 2002 for a laboratory, and with the purified water you don’t get the buildup of crystals and other things that can come from steam.”

The fog system uses high-pressure pumps to pressurize water and send it to an array of impaction pin nozzles located in the air handler. There, the nozzles atomize the water into minute droplets in the 10 micron range, which immediately evaporate. The system uses a fraction of the energy required to generate steam and cuts maintenance costs.

“A fog system requires a lot less maintenance than a steam based system,” says Moyer, “and it can respond quickly to the requirements of the building.”

At GVSU, it is primarily used during the winter, when the relative humidity can drop to 10%, but can also be used to maintain tight humidity control year round in laboratories as well in galleries and theaters where dry air can cause artwork or musical instruments to dry out and crack.

In the Seidman Center, it was first put to use during construction. The walls are lined with maple laminates that could be damaged by low humidity.

Robb is a freelance writer based in Clearwater, FL who specializes in engineering and computing. He is the author of Disk Management of Windows-Based Systems as well as numerous articles on industrial and facilities engineering.

According to Ken Myers of Quality Air, to maintain indoor air quality during the extensive millwork phase, the air handlers were run using 100% outside air and MERV13 filtration to keep particles from building up in the ducts, or on the walls and ceilings. Humidity was needed both for occupant health and to preserve the construction materials.

“They are able to maintain tight control over the humidity,” says McWatters, “and with the purified water going to the nozzles it keeps the wood dust free.”

The Seidman Center was just one project that Moyer had on his plate for 2013. In June of that year the $65 million Mary Idema Pew Library opened on the Allendale campus, and this time the building was designed to be GVSU’s first LEED Platinum facility. Four other projects underway at Allendale are scheduled for completion during 2014, and these also have LEED requirements.

“We have programs that have grown, we are constricted on space, and we’ll look for opportunities to expand and meet the college’s space needs,” says Moyer. “But in meeting the space needs, we always ask ourselves, can we also improve the university?”