World-class Facility, World-class University

Oct. 1, 2010
Who do visionary university officials call for Design/Build excellence? A world-class mechanical contractor. Namely, the Murphy Co. of St. Louis, MO.

In 2006, Washington University in St. Louis, MO became the first university in the world to create a Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering. The university's vision is to establish itself as a hub for environmental and energy research, education, innovation and action, and to create the next generation of global leaders in these important areas.

To help them serve in attaining these goals, university officials commissioned the construction of the Stephen F. & Camilla T. Brauer Hall. This new building also houses Washington University's International Center for Advanced Renewable Energy & Sustainability, as well as new facilities for the university's rapidly growing Department of Biomedical Engineering.

A world-class program deserves a world-class facility, and that's what the construction team delivered on Brauer Hall. The 150,875 sq.ft., three-story building with 23 custom-made lab suites was designed and built in 18 months — under budget and well ahead of schedule. In addition to the 23 labs, the building consists of a 7,500 sq.ft. research area with two biosafety level 3 and two biosafety level 4 spaces, data center, chiller plant, conference rooms, classrooms, 60 offices and a 90-seat distance-learning classroom. The distance learning classroom allows the Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering Department to communicate with its research partners throughout the world.

Murphy was awarded the contract for Brauer Hall in September 2008, and the company's team members were in the field at the end of that same month. Design was completed on July 1, 2009, and construction finished on June 6, 2010. The team finished the design just fast enough to stay ahead of the construction.

Murphy's Project Manager, Don Lynott, attributes this quick turnaround to weekly meetings with fellow sub-contractors, constant communication with the architect, and building information modeling (BIM).

"Murphy Company took the lead in the virtual building of Brauer Hall, using the BIM technique and completing all design in 3-D," Lynott says. "While designing, the team laid out the job so that it could be taken straight from the BIM model to Murphy’s fabrication shop for pre-fabrication for a true 'CAD-CAM' delivery. Murphy designed the floors one-by-one, releasing each one for construction as soon as the design was completed."

Murphy imported 2-D AutoCAD drawings into the 3-D model and built the structural model. Architectural drawings were coordinated in 2-D, so Murphy worked with the architect in 2-D, while the remaining systems were all coordinated with the other trades in 3-D.

In the design process, Murphy relied on the experience of their in-house colleagues. Team leaders met for brainstorming sessions with project managers who had recently completed complex pharmaceutical buildings. They discussed fabrication, installation, coordination, and sequencing of HVAC and plumbing systems, as well as prior lab construction experiences and possible trouble spots to avoid.

Along with the tight schedule, Murphy also had to deal with a tight work site along the university’s busy Forest Park Parkway, where real estate was at a premium. To work around this, ductwork was completed in a just-in-time delivery method. As soon as ductwork was designed and fabricated, it was taken to the site and timed perfectly with the delivery of cranes that hoisted everything into the building. All fabrication was kept mobile, on wheels, until time of installation.

"The pace of the entire project was second-to-none, the design was only a few steps ahead of construction, and the architect had little time to meet with Washington University faculty to ensure their needs were being met," Lynott says.

Washington University faculty was constantly providing input, and each one of the 23 research and instructional labs was custom-made for a particular professor. Several labs required high-pressure air compressors of 140 pounds per square inch (PSI). Other labs required reverse osmosis (RO) water, a high-purity system that requires a separate RO skid just to make the water pure. Several labs needed special gases such as oxygen, methane, or nitrogen, all of which are fed locally from gas cylinders. Murphy also provided ventilation for five environmental rooms that maintain 32 degrees.

For comfort and energy efficiency throughout the building, Murphy provided a heat recovery runaround loop, which picks up heat from the lab exhaust and transfers it into the supply air system. The biosafety lab area needed to be humidified, and Murphy ensured there was no cross-contamination between the various bio-safety labs. Pressure is controlled so that air travels from corridor into the procedure room, which is exhausted out of the building with a HEPA filter. The Murphy team coordinated with the controls contractor, reviewing and assisting with the coordination of design and sequence of operation.

The building has achieved Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

Achieving LEED points, to become a LEED Gold certified building, was a crucial aspect of the project. Washington University received power credits for its off-site renewable energy source, and the project also scored thermal comfort credits. Additional credits were achieved by using 90% efficient domestic water heaters. There also is a storm water collection and pumping system using a 180,000 gallon old brick cistern that was found abandoned and sitting below a parking lot. Building storm water is piped to the cistern, which empties into an irrigated landscape sprinkler system.

The chiller plant that Murphy Company installed is very efficient, operating at 0.541 kW/ton. The plant consists of two, 1,000-ton chillers that can be operated in five different scenarios. During normal operation, one chiller serves the building, while the second serves the underground campus chilled water loop.

Once designed and built, Washington University hired a third-party commissioning agent to perform enhanced commissioning on the major HVAC systems. The systems were put through a sequence of operations, ensuring they operate as per design and set point, to validate that the building was functioning as expected. Thanks once again to the exceptional coordination of the project, the commissioning unveiled no major issues. As a result, the project was completed two months ahead of schedule.

"Murphy Company's 3D CAD software for both piping and ductwork worked to perfection on the Brauer Hall project," says Neal Schaeffer, LEED AP, project manager, facilities planning and management, for Washington University in St. Louis. "Downloading the fully coordinated design files directly to the fabrication shop machine tools saved setup time and minimized scrap and rework. Piping and ductwork were delivered to the job site pre-insulated and sequenced to be installed in layers, with cable tray, sprinklers, and so on. I don’t know how they could have met our schedule without using the latest technology, including GPS survey tools," Schaeffer says.

"The state-of-the-art design and construction of this building is the 'stage-setter' for the state-of-the art research and leadership development that will take place within its walls," says Matt Gildehaus, Murphy's mechanical engineer and design project manager. "Murphy Company feels privileged to have played a major role in the design and construction of this world-class building for a world-class university."