In the Know (Enhancing + Engaging + Connecting)

Old Building, New Life

University Campus Building Upgrades 


Older campus buildings are being renovated and retrofitted in synergistic ways, with technology being marshaled to advance institutions’ strategic goals.

Take, for example, Morgens Hall at the University of Cincinnati (UC), seen below, where workers were busy this spring as a team of officials from several campus departments led College Planning & Management on a tour. Originally constructed in 1965, the student residence was in the midst of a complete renovation, completed in time for the start of the fall 2013 semester.

The impetus behind this $33,200,000 project: to meet a need for on-campus housing at the growing campus, while filling a niche in UC’s housing portfolio with an attractive building.

There, as on other campuses, engineers and architects are applying modeling and analytic software, as well as new approaches and building techniques to speed up design and construction, boost efficiency and sustainability and cut costs. Some other examples:

  • Tulane University’s Richardson Memorial Hall, where officials, architects and engineers are planning a $24-million renovation to the century-old landmark of Tulane’s central campus. The renovation includes smart building technology designed to reduce carbon emissions and consume less water.

  • Cornell’s Warren Hall, a grand, 81-year-old Beaux Arts building, where $30 million in renovations will include new audio-visual systems in addition to reconfigured and modernized spaces. Technologies to boost sustainability, including air conditioning and lighting occupancy sensors, are targeting significant cuts in the building’s energy use.

  • Stanford University, where a long-term energy retrofit program underway since the 1990s has implemented more than 200 projects of varying sizes and types — including window film installations, upgrades to HVAC systems and using light-emitting diode (LED) lighting.

Where They Live

Technology is making marked differences in student residence halls in particular.

“You see it in terms of the technology capabilities that universities want to provide to students and that those students expect,” says James Baumann, of the Association of College and University Housing Officers International (ACUHO-I).

Those technological capabilities include high-speed Internet, used as a marketing and recruiting tool by campuses, explains Baumann. On other technological fronts, “the connection between sustainability and technology is definitely there,” he says. For example, displays on dorm suite energy meters, as well as video displays in lobbies, can show a residence hall’s energy use. Such displays promote “positive peer pressure” about conserving energy and enable energyuse competitions on and across campuses. Students are also accessing such information online — another way that building systems and other technologies are coming together.

Back at UC’s Morgens, a number of related dynamics came into play during the multi-faceted renovation by Richard Fleischman + Partners Architects (RFPA), KLH Engineers and HGC Construction that transformed a nondescript, high-rise dormitory a LEED- Silver student residence showpiece. This was a complete renovation; indeed, as UC states, “only the concrete floor plates and resident mailboxes remain from the original construction.” New kitchens, bathrooms, plumbing, wiring and a modified fire protection system were part of too many changes to list here.

Technical aspects include:

  • Installing LED lighting in “every dwelling unit… equating to a more-than 20 percent reduction in overall energy needs of the building in lighting alone,” reports RFPA’s Aaron Hill.

  • Providing independent, motel-like heating and air-conditioning controls in each room of the 144-unit, 455-bed residence. A central system feeds those individual controls with 20 percent outside air; just one of the ways that indoor air quality was enhanced.

The building’s LEED scorecard shows environmentally friendly features for Morgens across categories ranging from energy to water efficiency to design innovation, with the project earning enough points for LEED Silver certification. Among the facts:

  • Boosting energy performance by 16 percent of the ASHRAE 90.1 baseline
  • Diverting almost 90 percent of construction waste from landfills
  • Providing daylighting in “75 percent of regularly occupied areas”

Contributing to a High-Tech Envelope

The scorecard also notes the building’s “high-performance glazing,” and in fact, that floor-to-ceiling glazing was a focal point of the renovation. The 2,796 advanced glass panels covering 71,670 square feet served several key functions at once, not the least of which was aesthetics, a priority on the UC campus, populated as it is with diverse, renowned architecture. First, the system was selected after models by the project engineer, KLH Engineers, showed that replacing the old windows — they were poorly sealed, single- glaze panes in aluminum frames — with the high-performance glass curtain wall would cut HVAC energy consumption by 40 percent, report RFPA’s Jerry Flynn and Aaron Hill.

Second, adjustable panels in the glazing have thermal qualities, a frit pattern and an opaque finish that slash thermal heat gain by a fifth, while providing privacy. Incidentally, there was no field glazing; workers assembled the entire system in the factory, slicing weeks off the schedule, explains Flynn.

Third, the curtain wall was established within precise tolerances — far outpacing those of the original 1960s construction.
Uneven edges on the original floor slabs were a surprise and had to be accounted for, reports UC’s project manager, John “Jack” Schnieder.

Fourth, the curtain wall was positioned to enable builders to incorporate old balcony space into the living area, increasing the size of each dwelling.

Some takeaways:

  • Embrace a vigorous dialogue from across campus, and hire architects and engineers who are willing and able to do likewise.
  • Ask what technologies and features are needed to help your facilities compete.
  • “Think through the values and goals you are seeking from the inside out,” says the University of Cincinnati’s Todd Duncan, director of Housing & Food Services.
  • “Plan your building’s electrical use, then up it by 50 percent,” Duncan adds.
  • Know your building extremely well. Going into a project, don’t assume anything about the older building, and instead conduct exacting preliminary work across the board.
  • Be aware of the trends, but stake your own claim based on your campus’ needs.

Wireless Access for All

In another sign of the technological times, with a student residence must come robust Internet access, of course, and such was the case with the project’s wireless build-out. The result, according to UC’s IT department: “Wireless coverage is IEEE 802.11n compliant, meaning that 300 Mbit/s of shared throughput is available to the wireless user. Morgens residents can also connect to wireless printing. Additionally, residents have the capability to utilize a 100 Mbit/s wired connection as a wireless alternative to meet networking needs.”

That’s some of the key technology in the building. Other technology played a key role in making that building space happen in the first place. Engineers and architects used Building Information Modeling (BIM). The 3D virtual tool is not unusual, but brings considerable benefits to the process. As Hill explains, BIM “allows for multiple design alternatives to be studied simultaneously within a single model, it improves coordination between trades, and it allows for construction documents to be generated more quickly.”

Coordination, this time across campus, was also a key in bringing this project in on time and on budget. Mary Beth McGrew, UC’s architect and an associate vice president, says that renovating, instead of constructing anew, cut the per-room cost by almost half — $80,000 per bed from renovating, down from a projected $150,000 per bed figure from constructing anew.

Thus, universities marshal many means to bring older campus buildings forward in dramatic fashion. It’s all a sign of the times, with strategic thinking and various technologies playing key roles.

This article originally appeared in the College Planning & Management October 2013 issue of Spaces4Learning.

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