Pioneer Construction

Photovoltaic and solar hot water heating systems save energy costs over time, but for the new $44 million Mary Idema Pew Library at the Allendale, Mich., campus of Grand Valley State University (GVSU), their payback extended up to 60 years when competing against the campus’ bulk energy purchases.

Because of the university’s requirement that the new library’s energy-saving features pay their expenses back in 10 years, solar and geothermal systems did not meet the deadline. Nevertheless, Pioneer Construction – which was brought in during preconstruction – architect SHW Group and the university were able to design a building that still is aiming for LEED Platinum certification.

Along with the LEED certification, the owner/design/construct teams joined efforts with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to evaluate the entire building’s design and use. By capitalizing on this effort, GVSU established and is currently maintaining a 50-percent energy utilization goal.

“You’re not just selecting material – you’re really analyzing every component of the building,” points out Scott Veine, project manager and director of sustainability. “That’s where changes came about. It’s not a traditionally built building, there’s no doubt about it. There’s traditional materials in it – materials we use every day – but how we’re applying them is different to meet some of the criteria. That’s truly where our team, and I want to use that word team – SHW, Grand Valley and Pioneer – really came together and understood the project. Now we’re well on our way to meeting that global goal of LEED Platinum.”

Every aspect of the 150,000-square-foot building – its envelope, how utilities are brought in and air distributed into the building, how materials are used – was examined in detail. For example, the glass curtain wall uses traditional materials, but it is built up in such a way that it has a thermal performance comparable to a masonry wall, Veine maintains.

“The engineers explored multiple glass build-ups to maximize the performance with coatings and processes,” Veine explains. “It’s a unit build-up process that has always existed. They just played with the makeup of it.”

Another feature that will improve the Mary Idema Pew Library’s energy efficiency is that approximately 90 percent of its floors will be raised and the heating and cooling will be forced through the floor plenum. This will deliver heating and cooling more directly to the building’s occupants and save the energy of forcing it down from the ceiling, Veine points out. “GVSU will have more environmental control throughout the whole building, and it is more stable from a climate standpoint,” Veine notes. “Now you’re saving energy.”

Extensive use of daylighting is designed into the building, and the lighting system will be zoned with a dimming capability to match the level of daylighting in each zone. “If it’s a sunny day, the lights aren’t going to be on, but as you get closer to the interior core, you’ll see zones of light, all based on footcandles,” Veine declares. The lighting system is designed to be maintained easily, he adds, so an electrical technician will not be required to change a lightbulb.

Green roofs will be installed on third- and fourth-floor patios. On the sixth story, where a mechanical penthouse is located, a green roof is planned in the future. For now, it will be covered with a white single-ply roof. The concrete basement of the structural steel building is 42 feet deep to meet up with the utilities tunnel that is connected to the campus heating and cooling plant. The exterior is curtain wall, Michigan field stone and quartzite mined in northern Minnesota with stainless steel accents.

“With the basement being deep, we had to shore up the adjoining Kirkhof Center while it was occupied,” Veine says. “We also created fire egress points out of the Kirkhof Center while it was occupied and a physical hook-in below grade that was a challenge.” The library will be connected to the Kirkhof Center.

Although the library is being built in what formerly was an open field, the laydown area around it is tight. “Allendale is a pretty rural community, and so is the campus,” Veine asserts. “But building the new library is almost like working on a heavy urban downtown project. We have to be extremely tight with the LEED component, and we also have to be extremely tight because students are walking around us all day and all year long. We don’t want to disrupt their traffic patterns, so safety is a major challenge. We’re one of the best in the business in having safe sites, but the safety on the outside of the fence is equally as important as inside the fence. That has been a challenge.”

Rainy Conditions

Although people working on the project and walking around it have been cooperative, the weather was not always so when the foundation was being poured last summer.

“Before the rain, foundation formwork would start, the crews would have all our steel set for the footing and foundation walls, and then the monsoon rains would occur, causing a complete rebuild,” Veine recalls. “With the clay base that’s down there, no matter how many pumps you had, the water would stay in that low area. Although we are not the lowest elevation on campus, we are the lowest point within a large zone central to campus, so we were not just taking all the rain for the site, we were taking in water from across campus. It would bring in clays and silts. So the concrete contractor would return, clear everything out, clean everything up, excavate, and rebuild.”

Major construction delays resulted. “There’s just nothing you can do – you’re helpless,” Veine laments. “We worked through it. We’re getting close to our original schedule timeline, but we lost nearly 10 weeks due to the rain and rebuilding.” Construction of the Mary Idema Pew Library began in April 2011 and will be completed in the summer of 2013 so it can accept students for the fall semester.

Self-performing and Subcontracting

As construction manager acting as constructor, Pioneer Construction will engage approximately 54 subcontractors and self-perform general trades, carpentry and finish carpentry and steel erection. “We had about 40 iron workers at one point on the job including management staff,” Veine calculates.

Pioneer Construction was deeply involved in preconstruction.“We were there from programming through scheduling, design, and the development of the construction documents,” he says. “We developed all the bid scopes, the bidding schedules and conducted all the prebid interviews. We had four bid packages on the project. We did all the bid tracking, and we were in coordination meetings weekly with SHW. We were an active participant in the design process.”

Much of Pioneer Construction’s work is in the Midwest and is concentrated in western Michigan. “We’re a traditional construction firm, with an emphasis on sustainable construction practices, and we are always striving to improve on past construction practices,” Veine emphasizes. “We focused in on decreasing our emissions on the jobsite. So what we did there was we shifted some of our equipment selection from diesel to electric. Our main piece of equipment is a tower crane powered by electric. So the diesel emissions are none, whereas we would have used tens of thousands of gallons of diesel fuel to put up the building.”

Electric mast climber scaffolding is being used on the exterior of the library along with electric welders in lieu of diesel-powered welders. Veine estimates 90 percent of the structural connections are welded. By changing from traditional equipment, emissions have been dramatically decreased on the project.

Grand Valley State University intends to monitor the performance of the building’s energy, mechanical and electrical systems and the building envelope using controls and monitors once it is completed. 

“After we’re gone and two to three years down the road, we want to make sure that what we installed is actually performing the way the engineers and designers intended and the way we constructed it,” Veine resolves. “GVSU even will monitor the faculty and their comfort levels in the next years ahead to make sure the building is performing as it was intended. We’re still tacking for LEED Platinum without the renewables. That’s a huge bonus. It’s a testament to how well the building is designed and hopefully being built.”

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