Sustainable Strategies Part of Disaster Recovery

In 2008, disaster struck the Cedar Rapids Community School District in Iowa and five administrative buildings were flooded. Shive-Hattery’s design team began working immediately with the district and FEMA to finalize repair costs and strategies for recovery.

The immediate challenge was a fast time frame, established by FEMA’s required four-year recovery period. With temporary facilities being used and extensive public forums held to determine direction, 17 months passed before the Board of Education voted to build a new 169,000-square-foot Educational and Leadership Support (ELS) Center on 20 acres of district land.

The center would include administration; public meeting spaces, including a large outdoor meeting space; graphics and printing; building and grounds; custodial and grounds; purchasing and warehouse; and transportation services.

With less than three years left to complete the structure, architects faced designing a complex building with multiple uses while allowing a realistic amount of time for construction. Adding to the complexity was the district’s commitment to geothermal heating and cooling and other sustainable strategies. The system for the ELS center needed to be highly sophisticated due to numerous operational systems working together to create efficiencies.

Shive-Hattery utilized their “Core Team” approach to facilitate handling the facility’s complexities in a timely manner. This brought together 25 members, including major stakeholders, district directors and building managers, staff, FEMA, representatives of the state, the flood recovery consultant and two citizen members. These individuals were empowered to make major decisions from the project’s start to finish, freeing architects to focus strictly on design.

Here’s how Cedar Rapids Community School District and its team produced a $44.5 million, sustainable headquarters, capable of a 50 percent energy savings, on schedule and below budget.

The Core Team process

Once the decision had been made to build new rather than repair or relocate, architects began master planning and assisting in purchasing adjacent flood-damaged property. A day-to-day decision-making Core Team was put in place to meet weekly and expedite the project to its completion. Based on the design firm’s own business model, the Core Team’s principles required that key problems be defined early, as well as all roles and responsibilities. All members were to stay focused on and accountable for the whole project, from start to finish.

While routine discussions included expectations, risk, schedule and budget, the team was also tasked with decision making and setting direction for current day, 30-day and 90-day out planning. The team gathered information and defined action that needed to be completed within each phase, then coordinated with the design team. The approach proved key to accomplishing the fast-track schedule. Complex problems were broken down, defining which parts were most critical, so that responsibilities could be assigned to produce the necessary work.

“The noise” was ultimately eliminated from the design process, so that architects could stay focused on day-to-day designing and developing construction documents, while receiving high-level direction and information on a regular basis from the Core Team. Meanwhile, the architects’ and engineers’ own team meetings were simplified to exchanging information and returning to work.

Through this process, architects were able to complete master planning and design within 10 months. The final bid package was sent out in time to give the contractor just under two years to complete construction. Considering the facility’s complexities of mixed uses, mechanical geothermal systems and other sustainable strategies, this construction schedule was determined to be the shortest realistically possible, including punch list and move-in. A representative from the selected contractor was added to the Core Team, further enhancing overall communication.

While the Core Team approach can be critical to the success of large, complex projects, smaller ones, too, can benefit from following the principles. Inviting the principal or superintendent into the design team meetings will help share communication. The most important factor is to keep a school’s or district’s leadership involved throughout the project.

Sustainability for operational savings

The Core Team was also responsible for decision making and strategy direction concerning energy selections for the new building. Staff members in charge of HVAC, lighting, grounds and custodial were part of the team all the way through. The tight time schedule required strategies to incorporate sustainability planning early into the overall process.

Beginning during the master planning stage, energy consultants used a whole building process to analyze and model numerous options for energy savings. Energy modeling was run for four bundled combinations of strategies to demonstrate initial cost and total savings. With the Core Team facilitating, bundles for architectural, electrical and mechanical were selected and each given a designated energy savings goal even before designers started design development. The advantage was that designers could design the first time around for the energy strategies that were actually going to be implemented.

The team set a goal of saving 50 percent on energy costs. Architectural strategies included high insulating values for roofing and walls, windows and curtain wall, and heavy garage doors. Electrical energy-saving strategies included occupancy sensors, daylight controls and daylight harvesting. For mechanical, the most complex of all the strategies, the geothermal ground source heat pump was selected for HVAC. Other sustainable strategies included storm water quality control, light pollution reduction and water use reduction. All totaled, 28 energy strategies were designed into the center. Finally, the building was constructed into the side of a hill so that the largest volume areas could be placed underground for more efficient temperature and humidity control.

Of all the strategies selected, the MGHO4 ground heat pump, with high efficiency through variable frequency drive (VFD) pumps, provided the highest portion at 44 percent of total energy savings during modeling. The first challenge was to determine how much water was available on the site. Because of the short schedule, test wells were made during design, much sooner than normal. Fracture Trace Analysis was used to identify cracks and the best place to hit water at the intersection of two fractures. As a major aquifer runs under the area, the water source was hit after drilling 485 feet deep. It provides a sufficient amount to service the building.

The type of ground heat pump selected was a pump and re-inject closed loop system with the VFD, which allows pumps to last longer and be more flexible. The heat pumps can be placed in the local areas to be served, rather than having a larger central plant. Its smaller duct runs hold down the cost and are more efficient.

To make certain that operation would be continuous, a redundant system was installed with two supply wells and two injection wells so that if one well is inoperable temporarily, the other can supply water. The approach also extends the life of the system, solving the issues of maintenance, longevity and constant use. Through another technique, acidation, the wells were widened at the bottom, to allow more water to flow through, increasing output.

Heat recovery was also designed into the system, for further savings. Instead of discarding discharged air, it is captured and reused to heat or cool other areas not normally conditioned, such as stairwells. The HVAC system is operated through computerized control, based on energy computer software, to keep all elements working in concert, reaching efficiency levels and meeting or beating the goals of energy savings set out from the beginning.

Through a thoughtfully intentional process that was skillfully managed, the Core Team for the Cedar Rapids Community School District project was able to make concise and timely decisions throughout the process. The results achieved have given the district a new leadership home with multiple sustainable design features that are well on their way to meeting energy savings goals. 

Michael Gumm, AIA, is an architect with Shive-Hattery in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He can be reached at [email protected].