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A Tight Fit

Oct. 1, 2006
It was important to the church that they find someone who could redesigned the system so that it could provide cooling to the sanctuary year-round.

Winner: Retrofit/Renovation less than $500,000

Kahn Mechanical Contractors
Dallas, TX

By Pete Grasso, associate editor

Winner at a Glance:

    Kahn Mechanical Contractors
    First Baptist Church of Hamilton Park, Richardson, TX
    Frank Peterson, administrative assistant to the senior pastor
    Josh Kahn, president
    Dennis Brisbon, project manager; Brian Limbaugh, rigging; James Miller, controls; Josh Kahn, design; David Lee, pipefitting; Doug Lawson, electrical
    • Carrier: 39M series air handling units
    • Aurora: 382 series inline vertical circulation pump
    • Novar: ETC-3 temperature controllers
    • Belimo: VS series control valves

The First Baptist Church of Hamilton Park was in bad need of a new mechanical system.

Kahn had to redesign the central plant to provide two-pipe flow to the majority of the facility, and four-pipe flow for the sanctuary space.

Kahn had very little space to work with when installing the new pipe support framing.

The original installation was "a little tight" and wasn't very accessable for servicing.

Kahn had to determine new pipe routes that required more that 1,000 ft. of steel piping to be fed through one small hole in the back of the facility.

The church at 300 Philips Street in Richardson, TX, was one of the first buildings in the area with central conditioned air when it was built in 1961. However, the original mechanical design was a two-pipe hydronic system, and the facility's current tenants, First Baptist Church of Hamilton Park had some concerns — mainly, that the system could not heat the classrooms and cool the sanctuary at the same time.

It was important to the church that they find someone who could redesigned the system so that it could provide cooling to the sanctuary year-round, since it's a place "where a whole lot of folks pray — with enthusiasm."

To accomplish this, they turned to Kahn Mechanical Contractors, Dallas, TX, to provide Design/Build solutions to some vexing problems.

Kahn Stands Out
Kahn Mechanical Contractors already had pre-existing relationship with First Baptist Church of Hamilton Park. For many years, Kahn provided the facility control systems service as a subcontractor to another mechanical contracting firm in Dallas.

"When the church began planning this project, we were solicited by the customer directly," says Josh Kahn, president of the company. "Upon learning that the mechanical contractor that 'brought us to the dance' was not bidding the work, we chased the project with diligence."

The first step in the process was an interview with the church's building and grounds committee.

"We were very honest about our strengths, and equally honest about past failures and our company values that drive us to correct failures regardless of the bottom line cost," Josh says. "We also agreed to provide all of our pricing on the open book method, revealing our costs and profit margins. We believe that this honest approach earned us the trust of the church."

During the bidding process, Kahn found it to be a challenge just fending off alternative design plans offered by competitors.

"When an alternative plan came from the competition, we were challenged to prove why our design had more merit," Josh says. "We did this with meticulous attention to detail. Our competition lacked this attention, and we won out."

Getting a project like this is a major win for most companies. Kahn believes that there are four specific reasons why his company won the bidding process — advice that could serve any contractor looking for an advantage:

  • Prior experience with the facility.
  • Excellent credibility from past experience, as well as a wealth of customer referrals from other religious facilities.
  • Professionalism. All presentations were bound documents, presented in a professional manner.
  • Solutions were presented to problems. "The competition was selling air handlers, piping, and pumps," Josh says. "We focused on selling dependability, comfort, energy efficiency, and lower cost of ownership."

From a Design/Build standpoint, the renovation of the First Baptist Church of Hamilton Park came with some vexing challenges:

  • The original piping was fully embedded in the facility. Kahn had to determine new pipe routes that required more that 1,000 ft. of steel piping to be fed through one small hole in the back of the facility.
  • The sanctuary is in use every Sunday. New mechanical systems had to be installed with very tight downtime scheduling.
  • The original construction of the mechanical plant was two-pipe. Kahn had to redesign the central plant to provide two-pipe flow to the majority of the facility, and four-pipe flow to the new air-handling units for the Sanctuary space.

Kahn also discovered that the control system operating the existing mechanical equipment was ineffective — all the controls were bypassed and being operated manually. In addition, the existing air-handling units were built in place. The mechanical rooms were concrete block all around, leaving just one 3-ft. x 7-ft. door for all demolition and installation.

Time and Budgetary Concerns
Time and scheduling were the greatest challenge for Kahn. The church required quick replacement of the equipment with little or no downtime.

"Additional costs were incurred to provide for the fast track work of replacing air handling units," Josh says. "Nonetheless, the Design/Build process allowed for meeting all of the customer goals without any change orders or costs beyond budget.

"New systems had to literally be built over the top of the existing mechanical plant, and then the existing plant was slid out from underneath. This is like pulling a tablecloth off of a fully dressed table."

Noise, and fumes, from the pipe fabrication process were also a concern. Kahn kept a rigid schedule and a strict attention to the process. Once piping was in place and fully tested, the fast-track replacement of the airhandling units began.

" We had scheduled tightly and planned carefully," Josh says. "Space was at a premium in the mechanical spaces, and we only had a small doorway to work through. We could only fit a small number of personnel into the space at any one time.

Design Quality
Kahn worked directly with the First Baptist Church of Hamilton Park to fully understand their needs and goals. They understood what the church wanted, and then they designed the systems to meet those goals.

"We worked closely with the manufacturers to be sure that each component we selected would work well with the other elements of the design," Josh says. "We used proven designs in place of cutting edge ideas.

"Lastly, we communicated with the client the advantages of stepping up to higher quality designs at each crossroad. Although they did not purchase every upgrade offering we suggested, they did consider ever suggestion we made."

The final design choices of this project were a true contractor-client partnership. The finished design was a result of Kahn's design experience, and the church's consideration of the merits of Kahn's presentation of the choices.

Kahn identified three key components to the project's overall design:

  1. Installation of new chilled-and hot-water headers to the sanctuary, including modifications to the flow design in the central plant.
  2. Demolition and reinstallation of two central air handling units, and the addition of fresh air makeup ductwork.
  3. Reconfiguration of the existing facility control system to properly sequence the central plant and the new air-handling units.

Installation Quality
"It's the details of a project that differentiate a good mechanical system from a great one," Josh says. "Since so much of this project is visible to the untrained eye, considerable attention to the installation quality was the obligation of each tradesman on the project. We were pleased that the same attention was given to the details not visible to the client."


The water flow to the facility was modified significantly by redesigning the two-pipe headers for the central plant.

"The two-pipe segments of the facility are designed with variable speed pumping on the secondary and constant volume on the primary," Josh says. "We designed two additional constant flow loops for the new sanctuary chilled water and hot water loops."

Kahn completely reprogrammed the building management controls to deliver the right water temperature to each zone upon demand for cooling and heating without need for customer interaction.

"The first warm day after the conclusion of the project," Josh says, "Frank Peterson, the administrative-assistant to the senior pastor, called our office and said, 'I can't believe it but the air conditioning is on in my office, and I did not have to do anything to make it work. It just came on all by itself!'"

All new central plant mechanical equipment and water flows are controlled by a Novar control system.

"This system was fully capable of performing all of the building control needs; it just needed to be reprogrammed to meet the customer's requirements," Josh says. "Once they allowed us to interact directly — and ask the right questions — we could meet their needs without chance of offending the ' middle man' or third-party engineer."

The newly configured control system operates all the staging of the chillers, pumps, and boiler to meet load and provide lead/lag redundancy. The control system also provides control for heat and cool changeover valves, and the zoned variable speed secondary pumping to the facility.

Kahn believes that its careful planning and Design/Build experience helped it overcome the unique challenges that the First Baptist Church of Hamilton Park presented to it. The actual space with which Kahn had to work with at the church may have been a tight fit, but the choice the church made in choosing Kahn was definitely the right fit.