Power Services and Natelco modernize private school with the environment in mind

MEMBERS OF THE SIDWELL FRIENDS SCHOOL COMMUNITY feel a responsibility to the earth. They wanted embrace this Quaker value within their private, Washington, D.C.-area facility, which has educated high-profile students, including children of presidents and ambassadors. When the middle and high school campus needed expansion and renovation, an environmentally friendly manner was chosen.

It took four years for the design team and the school to formulate a plan to expand and renovate the middle school as well as add a 1,000-space parking garage and mixed-use facility. The design team was also aiming for a Platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for the middle school addition/renovation. Electrical contractors Power Services Inc. (PSI), Bowie, Md., and Natelco Corp., Capitol Heights, Md., brought power to the project.

The school had several challenges from the onset. It needed better game fields large enough for competitive play, and more space for their middle school students. One of the most important aspects was parking, which was spilling into the residential neighborhood surrounding the school. As a solution, the school decided to add a two-story parking garage facility to address heavy drop-off and pick-up traffic and parking issues.

Natelco’s task was to relocate the main feeders serving the campus and bring the power to a 191,270-square-foot semi-recessed parking structure with office space and a 73,800-square-foot athletic field on top. The parking garage and athletic field would solve several problems for the neighborhood and for students. The existing playing field was reestablished as a state-of-the-art synthetic turf about 12 feet above street level and only a few feet above existing fields. According to project manager Jim Wilson, JFW Inc., with the new plan, the school was able to add parking, as well as relocate its security offices, buildings and grounds maintenance.

“The garage had to be the first piece because the other projects would require the fixed parking and traffic patterns,” he said.

With the new facility, parents can drop students off in the garage, and the design allows the school campus to blend in with surrounding residential neighborhood aesthetics.

Chip Novakowski, Natelco project manger, said its $800,000 project involved a multipurpose facility. The project began by excavating the subgrade floors for 1,000 parking spaces, requiring the relocation of the electrical primary service to the school campus. The parking structure’s electrical scope also included the buildings and ground administration space for the maintenance staff and facilities director.

“They wanted to keep with the architectural design that would blend in with the existing constructions, including the Quaker meeting house,” he said.

Natelco installed the lighting, all electric service to the administrative offices, emergency generator serving the campus IT infrastructure, the fire alarm system, security and traffic control devices such as gate openers, Novakowski said.

PSI had the lighting specially manufactured by Architectural Aerial Lighting with fixtures attached with brackets designed to blend into the surrounding community. The luminaires were designed to cast light down and avoid light pollution as well as maintain the foot-candles needed for security.

Inside the parking garage there was to be no exposed conduit.

“That required a tremendous amount of planning to eliminate the conduit,” he said.

Workers embedded the conduit in the concrete slab.

Safety minded

Safety was a priority and a challenge for all contractors, because the construction took place while students were in school.

“We had to excavate the area in front of the school and that made safety an important issue,” he said.

Much of the work took place around the schedules of students arriving and departing from the school. Concrete was laid in the winter of 2005–2006, and the parking deck needed to be completed by July 2006, with an interim parking garage occupancy goal of late May to allow parking for the high school graduation ceremonies in early June 2006.

“Street access was unavailable, staging was at a minimum; there was no available space,” Novakowski said. “A lot of work had to be done outside school hours.”

For security, PSI put in the raceways while Ark Systems installed the rest. In the meantime, Power Service, an electrical contractor, was working on the middle school addition.

“We watched the parking garage come out of the ground,” said Rick Bartlett, Power Services project manager.

The three-story, brick façade middle school, at 35,000 square feet, had outgrown its available space. The school planned to double the size of the building by constructing a 35,000-square-foot addition. That work was done during the school year, while contractors had three months (while school was adjourned for the summer) to reconstruct the existing middle school area.

“Sidwell, as a Friends institution, is very concerned and sensitive to the idea of being good stewards to the environment,” Wilson said. “They wanted to be a beacon for other institutions,” whether those institutions are other Quaker schools, public schools or any other public facility.

As a result, there was considerable innovation worked into the building’s construction, electrical power, mechanical and plumbing. The only part of the middle school that remained after reconstruction was the exterior walls of the bottom two floors of the three-story building. There is an entirely new electrical system as well as mechanical and heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC). Construction on the addition began June 5 and, by late summer, the pressure was on to have the school completed by the first day of class.

“It’s a tremendous undertaking,” Wilson said. “At any time, there are 200-plus workers there.”

Altogether, PSI installed 21,000 feet of feeder cabling to power the middle school and addition. They provided engineering for the fire alarm systems and integration between the elevator and fire alarm. They also installed FineLight fixtures integrated with the Lutron system, said Bartlett. PSI also installed VFD motor controllers and PA system, and subcontracted the master clock system to ARK Systems, Washington, D.C.

The schedule became more compact as summer progressed, especially with delays caused by late deliveries of fixtures and even a car accident in front of the school that temporarily closed the work site.

The finished building includes as many as 20 classrooms per floor, as well as labs and an auditorium. In the 70-by-30-foot auditorium, PSI installed an EDI light management system.

PSI also connected a series of kilowatt meters to allow monitoring of power in the school hallways displaying details of the facility power and fuel consumption.

“It’s a fairly complex lighting control system,” said Kim Pexton, general contractor and HITT’s director of sustainable construction.

Tied into photosensors, it adjusts the lighting specific to the amount of sunlight in each room. The LCD screen in the hallway communicates what is happening in the building—both for facility operators and students for education purposes. The entire system is tied into variable air volume boxes and connected to one central location.

“It gives the school the ability to monitor how the electric is functioning and the mechanical side as well,” Pexton said.

PSI’s 30-plus electricians put in a power and motor control center from which all the electric power was threaded. They ran a new distribution system for the existing half of the building to connect to the new addition. PSI also installed an automated lighting system intended to reduce energy usage by adjusting light levels in each room of the building according to natural light coming through the windows. The Lutron system included Lutron Dimming, to lower lighting levels automatically. PSI worked closely with the specifier to find the right light fixtures.

The programmable lighting system also includes occupancy sensors in closets, restrooms and other areas that are often unoccupied. With the customized integrated lighting system, the school claims the use of energy for lighting is 10 to 15 percent of that of a comparable Code-compliant building. This reduction in energy use in the lighting reduces the need for cooling in the building as a result of the heat created by lights. The integrated lighting design is the most effective energy-conserving measure deployed in the building, Sidwell Friends faculty asserts.

The structure itself includes a variety of unique features such as exterior walls made from recycled red cedar wine kegs and wood decking and bridge walkways from reclaimed pilings and piers from the Baltimore harbor. Bookcases are constructed with wheat board—made from pressed wheat byproduct. The paneling comes from highly renewable bamboo. Solar chimneys on the school are heat collectors to flush out hot air. The glass-enclosed chimneys, Wilson said, “create an updraft similar to the effect of an attic fan.”

The roof includes 50 photovoltaic (PV) panels, said Pexton, which provide 5 percent of the school’s energy consumption. One of the areas powered by the solar panels is the computer lab, Wilson said.

New Age Solar, Clarksburg, N.J., provided and installed the panels above the existing building. The roof was an unusual choice both for its high number of PV panels and what was growing on the rest of it. While lawn growing on a roof is not unheard of, having soil at a depth of 6 to 12 inches is, Pexton said.

“This is a semi-intensive system with enough soil to support large perennial plants and vegetables,” she said.

In addition, the exposed roof is covered with a thermal, plastic, PVC membrane. The green roof vegetation will hold and filter rainwater, and gutters and downspouts will direct rainwater to a biology pond which will support native habitat. Herbs grown by students on the green roof will be supplied to the cafeteria.

Wastewater handling is innovative as well. The school constructed a 5,000-gallon holding tank for wastewater from the school restrooms. From there, water is flushed into engineered wetlands where the water goes through a filtration process before being sent back to the toilets. The school is also tied into the sewer system in the event that the school provides more wastewater than its own filtration plant can handle.

The sustainable design and LEED buildings are becoming more common, Wilson said. However, the Sidwell Friends construction is set apart from all the others.

“It’s been a thrill. As an institution, Sidwell Friends is very honorable and respectful,” he said.

When it came to the contractors and subcontractors Wilson expressed similar feelings.

“If you’re in stormy seas, you couldn’t think of a better group of contractors to be with,” he said. “They’re the ones who have to get us to the finish line and I couldn’t think of a stronger group for that.” EC

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at claire_swedberg@msn.com.