By Anne Vazquez
Published in the June 2009 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
In 2003, when the management team at Great River Energy began discussing the possibility of moving from the company’s Elk River, MN headquarters facility, several factors were leading the charge. An increase in personnel over several years, a floor plan which could be described as “chopped up,” and a desire (as well as a coming mandate) to reduce energy use significantly all added up to the decision that Great River Energy would benefit from a new facility.
Since occupying its Elk River headquarters in 1999 (when the company was formed), Great River Energy’s employee count had steadily increased as the electric co-operative’s membership experienced significant growth in its service regions. To adapt to the accompanying increase in headquarters occupancy, the facility management (FM) team met the demand with some creative reconfiguration in the 110,000 square foot, three building space. In some cases, private offices were used to accommodate up to four people, and conference rooms were transformed into permanent workspaces.
Also, in 2007, the Minnesota Legislature had passed the Next Generation Energy Act of 2007, which required every utility in the state, beginning in 2010, to achieve annual energy savings throughout its service region equal to 1.5% of its gross annual energy sales. As a not-for-profit electric cooperative, Great River Energy leadership decided the new headquarters should serve as an example of what energy efficiencies could be achieved.
With this focus on energy conservation, David Saggau, CEO of Great River Energy, called for the building to achieve LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (which it did in September 2008, with 56 of a possible 69 points). This was the first LEED pursuit for the company, and the anticipated learning curve prompted a “big picture” collaborative approach.
Mike Finley, director of business operations at Great River Energy, oversaw the entire project for the company. “I steered the process from the very early studies of our former facilities to identifying what we needed in a new headquarters,” he says.
“[This meant leading] the team effort from the selection of the site, architect, contractor, and owner’s representative all the way through to the completion of the building,” continues Finley. “Of course, a major effort like this one required a tremendous amount of collaboration internally and with our external partners. I worked hard to make sure the communication lines were open between all the groups.”
With that mindset, Finley and others at Great River Energy worked with the firms they had hired to execute a successful endeavor. The Minneapolis, MN office of Perkins+Will was the architectural firm; Dunham Engineering, also of Minneapolis, provided engineering services; and McGough Construction, based in St. Paul, MN, served as construction manager.
The company also hired The Tegra Group of Minneapolis to serve as owners’ representative. The Weidt Group, located in Minnetonka, MN, was hired to be the LEED consultant for the project.
A Chat With Mike Finley, director of business operations at Great River Energy
What are your responsibilities at Great River Energy? As director of business operations, I provide leadership for the business operations group. This includes facilities management, supply chain management, fleet and warehouse operations, office services, and aircraft services.
What notable changes have occurred in the energy/utilities industry during your tenure at Great River Energy? Energy is coming from new places now. Minnesota has a very strict renewable energy standard that utilities must generate 25% of their energy with renewable resources by 2025. The cost of power is rising, too, which has increased the value of energy conservation.
What challenges have these changes presented to you in your position? The tried and true methods of design and construction must be challenged to further the maturation of sustainable, green building. It’s exciting to create a cutting-edge building, but you encounter challenges you wouldn’t face when using traditional construction methods.
How have the changes made your work easier? As a utility, we know that the cheapest and cleanest kilowatt is the one we don’t need to produce, so building energy efficient facilities is good business. By introducing new ideas for energy conservation, we hope to educate consumers and make it easier for them to build sustainably.
Led by Finley, the site selection process involved consideration of locations throughout the state. From a business standpoint, it was important to remain near the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. And, for personnel, the company wanted to avoid significant increases in commute time for as many employees as possible. In fact, the facilities staff plotted the location of each employee’s home; the resulting map was one of the deciding factors in identifying potential sites. Eventually, Great River Energy decided upon Maple Grove, a city about 20 miles south of Elk River.
Moving into the design stage, Finley and his team kept their fellow employees informed of key developments for the new headquarters. For instance, a team had been formed prior to the design stage to collect information about methods to create a building representing the company culture. Additionally, employee representatives from all departments toured three corporate offices of other companies that had achieved LEED certification, so they could provide feedback.
Says Finley of this aspect of the project, “It’s important to involve employees when building for LEED. You need to communicate more than you [might] think.”
Lowering Operational Impact
The design of the new headquarters building and its systems was aimed at reducing energy consumption by at least 47% of that of a comparable building constructed with traditional materials and systems. Renewable energy (solar and wind), a geothermal system for heating and cooling (coupled with underfloor displacement ventilation), and the use of natural daylight went a long way toward that energy conservation goal.
But first, the architects positioned the building in a north-south orientation and used narrow floorplates to maximize daylight harvesting. The 166,000 square foot facility is comprised of two large sections connected by a four story atrium. This approach not only enabled natural light to enter deep into the building, but it also increased sight lines across much of the facility.
The portfolio of on-site renewable energy is comprised of a 72 kilowatt array of solar photovoltaic panels located on several areas of the roof and a wind turbine that stands tall on the front side of the property. These installations were expected to supply about 15% of the facility’s annual energy demand (informational kiosks in the building’s lobby display energy use in real time; available online at http://greatriverenergy/greentouchscreen.com).
Water conservation efforts involved several strategies, and the building design earned all five of the possible Water Efficiency points in the LEED rating system.
Landscaping irrigation was reduced with plants native to the region. Also collecting rainwater (and snowmelt from the roof) is a 20,000 gallon cistern; water for toilet flushing is sourced from this cistern. To stretch water further, all restrooms were outfitted with motion sensored faucets with aerators, as well as dual flush, water saving toilets.
With the aim of the new headquarters serving as an example of sustainable building and operations, the Great River Energy team discussed with the designers its desire for an innovative “green” element, one that (to their knowledge) hadn’t been used in any other building to date. This challenge was met with the inclusion of a lake-source geothermal system—to provide heating and cooling—coupled with underfloor displacement ventilation—an alternative to an overhead forced air system.
Just as ground-source geothermal systems draw on temperatures from the earth to heat and cool building interiors, a lake-source system uses the temperatures below the water for space conditioning purposes. As part of its work at the site, Dunham Engineering ascertained that the water at the lake bottom was, on average, 39°F during the winter and 60°F in the summer—parameters suitable for the new building.
As a result, Great River Energy did not need to install a chiller or boiler equipment.
Meanwhile, the underfloor displacement ventilation using raised flooring enables the FM staff to supply air at a higher temperature than would be needed with overhead ventilation. Less cooling is required to treat air before it is pushed into the space; additionally, more fresh air can enter without the system having to expend more energy for the additional volume. Also, air enters interior spaces at a lower static pressure, which reduces the horsepower needed to operate system fans.
A secondary benefit of the raised flooring was accessibility to underfloor wiring and related equipment. Explains Finley, “The main reason to install the raised access floors [in the new building] was for the increased indoor air quality and energy efficiency that the system provides. The flexibility to change spaces more easily is a terrific side benefit.”
The lake-source geothermal system combined with underfloor displacement ventilation was an example of the strength of the team collaboration. Finley had brought members together early on to find where “intersections” in the building design might come to light.
Regarding the entire project, the company (while not revealing the final budget) has stated it was accomplished for an incremental cost of less than 10% more than a conventional building. Finley clarifies that incremental costs are defined as those above and beyond costs that are typical from current ASHRAE codes and “traditional” building systems and construction.
“Systems such as our geothermal heat pump and raised access flooring have a higher first cost when compared to traditional central plant boilers and chillers, ceiling diffusers, and traditional floors,” he says. “However, these systems have a payback in terms of lower energy bills. Great River Energy emphasized long-term costs savings and sustainability in making such decisions.”
When the building was completed in April 2008, Finley had already spent several months preparing the approximately 300 occupants for the move from Elk River to Maple Grove. A team of employees representing all divisions of the company had met six months prior to discuss the process. That team met monthly to address any concerns during the final months of construction.
As moving day neared, the team shifted its focus to preparing for the actual move. There were “clean up and move” days for employees, and information packets with guidance on how to do routine things in the new building were distributed.
Moving was accomplished in eight single day phases, so that movers and technical teams could ensure work spaces and computer equipment would be functional the next day. A seamless transfer of technical equipment was a goal, with employees having indicated that to be a significant concern.
Now operating in the building for a little over a year, the Great River Energy project team is pleased with the results of its detailed planning. Still, Finley and his team continue to work to optimize the building. “We used year one to do numerous operational changes to the very complex HVAC system, and we have seen success in reducing demand and electric consumption,” he says.
“We are going to engage the building design team to work on measurement in year two, now that the building systems have been adjusted properly. We will measure the energy performance against the design goals set in the LEED submittal. Additionally, Great River Energy will engage the design team to create an employee satisfaction survey in year two. Anecdotally, the vast majority of employees are very satisfied with the new building.”
When asked about any tradeoffs required to earn more LEED points, Finley replies, “Overall, I would say we did not sacrifice any significant item to meet LEED design criteria. Of course there were some early challenges, like gaining employee acceptance on the lower 25 footcandle light level in offices. This light level was quite a bit lower than our former headquarters, but after a month or so, it had been accepted. The natural light level is very much appreciated by employees.”
And, of course, Finley has focused on ensuring the FM staff becomes familiar with any changes presented by working in a LEED certified building. “Our facilities staff and our food and custodial service partners have been trained by the building material vendors to use sustainable products for cleaning and maintenance. For example, [our carpet] representatives visited recently to do a one year check up on the maintenance program.”
Reflecting on the project—the first LEED Platinum commercial building in Minnesota, Finley says his favorite part of the building is the lake-source geothermal combined with underfloor displacement ventilation. “We were challenged to do something innovative, and that system encompasses the energy efficiency and creativity we were striving for,” he says. “And as a bonus, we have a beautiful view, fresh air, and natural light which make it a nice place to work.”
This article was based on an interview with Finley and project literature. To download a white paper written by the Great River Energy team on this project, visit www.GreatRiverEnergy.com, and click on “Our New Headquarters.”
Name of Facility: Great River Energy. Type of Facility: New. Function of Facility: Headquarters for electrical generation and transmission cooperative. Location: Maple Grove, MN. Square footage: 166,000. Construction Timetable: 16 months. Facility Owner: Great River Energy. Facility Manager: Mike Finley, director of business operations, Great River Energy. Architect/Interior Designer: Perkins + Will. General Contractor/Construction Manager: McGough Construction. Electrical/Mechanical Engineer/Lighting Designer: Dunham Associates. Structural Engineer: BKBM Engineers. Landscape Architect: CLOSE Landscape Architecture. LEED Consultant: Weidt Group.
Building Management System: TAC Invensys. Security System: Siemens. Fire Alarm Components: Siemens. Lighting Products: Bega; Corelight; Gotham; Kim; Lutron Electronics; Metalux. HVAC Equipment: Loop Group, Inc. (heat exchanger bundles); Water Furnace (internal heat pumps); York (fan coils). Rainwater Cistern: Total Containment Solutions provided by Zahl Petroleum. Photovoltaic Panels: Sanyo. Wind Turbine: NEG Micon M700 (remanufactured turbine). Power Supply Equipment: Square D. Back Up Power (UPS): Powerware. IT Infrastructure: Cisco. CMMS: Maximo. Roofing: Carlisle Membrane. Exit Signs: Sure Light. Furniture: Herman Miller (workstations); KI (conference tables); Great Openings (files). Flooring: Santa Regina (terrazzo tile); Shaw (carpet tile); Tate (raised access floors). Ceilings: USG Mars ClimaPlus. Surfacing: IceStone (countertops). Acoustics/Sound Masking: Atlas Sound; Biamp (commercial mixer amp); Crown (amplifiers); Middle Atlantic (racks). Windows/Curtainwalls/Skylights: Supersky; Viracon; Vista Wall. Window Treatments: Hunter Douglas (horizontals); Mechoshade (motorized and non-motorized shades). Elevators: KONE. Restrooms: American Standard (toilets, urinals); Sloan (low flow aerators, motion sensors, faucets, dual flush mechanisms).
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