The penthouse mechanical room
The penthouse mechanical room.

Defeating downtime: Shapiro & Duncan replaces mechanicals for occupied class-A office building in downtown D.C.

WASHINGTON — Imagine you’re an auto mechanic called in to rebuild the engine of a high-performance race car. The catch: you have to do the job while the car is doing laps around the track.  

WASHINGTON — Imagine you’re an auto mechanic called in to rebuild the engine of a high-performance race car. The catch: you have to do the job while the car is doing laps around the track.

Shapiro & Duncan Inc. recently faced the mechanical contractor’s version of that problem. They were hired to replace the entire chilled water plant and motor control center of a busy office building located on the corner of 14thStreet and I Street in Washington, D.C., the heart of the city’s business district.

“This is a Class-A building right in the heart of downtown,” explained Mark Drury, vice president of Business Development for Shapiro & Duncan. “A lot of them are 24/7 operations and could not afford any shut-down time. Basically, replacing the heart and lungs of a building while it’s operating is some major surgery.”

Full service

Shapiro & Duncan is a third-generation mechanical contracting firm now in its 37thyear of operation. Headquartered in Rockville, Md., with a 52,000-sq.ft. fabrication facility in Landover, Md., the company provides cradle-to-grave service, from system design to installation to maintenance.

“We have in-house engineering services,” Drury said.  “We have in-house controls engineers representing two different building automation control lines. We have a service department that maintains equipment after we install it. We have a special projects group that does equipment replacements, tenant work and small projects. Then our construction arm does our larger projects.”

Shapiro & Duncan employs nearly 350 people with a fleet of more than 120 trucks on the road. Their largest project to date was $55 million.

Getting to ‘yes’

For the I Street project the initial procurement was done through a qualifications-based proposal with a price. Shapiro & Duncan had to go through both an interview process and a presentation process. “Their procurement was not a low-bid type,” Drury said. “The owners were looking for assurances that they had the right contractor and they would not have any disruptions to their operating building.”

Construction had to be performed during the winter months when the ambient air temperature allowed for reduced cooling demand. Everything was set to start at the beginning of January 2012.

“Our completion date was April 15, 2012,” Drury said. “We had a four month window for permits, for submittals, for equipment procurement, for producing our BIM model, going through our prefabrication process, getting all the work done and getting everything in place.”

Logistics, logistics

The work was carefully planned and executed in phases. One cooling tower had to be removed, replaced and made operational before Shapiro & Duncan could take down the other two. The same situation applied to the two 600-ton chillers. Working in phases necessarily dragged out the timeframe of the job.

The company’s BIM team was a vital factor in scheduling and phasing the project. “By modeling everything we were able to pre-fabricate our piping assemblies,” Drury said. “What we put in place was for the most part all cut and fitted and welded using our automation processes in our pre-fab plant. Then it’s shipped out to the job in big trailer and craned up and into place, rigged and set. We have assemblers and welders on site to take care of the final connections.”

Which brings us to yet another obstacle Shapiro & Duncan had to hurdle: access. All the mechanicals were in the penthouse of the 12-story building, which meant using a crane for the demolition of the old systems and installation of the new systems as well. But the building itself was located on two of the busiest streets of one of the busiest cities in the country.

“That means coming in on the weekends,” explained Drury, “getting permits from the D.C. government to close a couple lanes so you have room to pull your trailers in… I think we had five weekends where we had lifts on this job with the crane on-site. So that was a big part of the job.”

The nuts and bolts

Shapiro & Duncan replaced two 600-ton and one 150-ton water-cooled chillers (replacements manufactured by Trane) and two two-cell cooling towers (replacements manufactured by Baltimore Air Coil).

The company also installed additional structural steel, new hydronic piping, one waterside economizer heat exchanger and eight Cummins-Wagner base-mounted pumps with their associated accessories (including new 4” high concrete housekeeping pads).

The scope of the work included a new chemical water treatment system, a new motor control center, and a new central plant control system from Siemens that integrated with the existing building management system.

The building remained on-line with sufficient cooling capacity to meet the off season demand loads throughout the renovation. After substantial completion, on time and under budget, all systems were successfully commissioned. Getting the system balanced — all the little tweaks and adjustments — took about six weeks.

End result

Now, almost exactly a year later, the clients are extremely happy with their new systems. They began seeing energy savings almost immediately. On March 22, 2013, the project received a Craftsmanship Award from the Washington Building Congress as a testament to the quality of Shapiro & Duncan’s work.

According to Mark Drury, that success comes from a company culture that values its employees. “We’ve got great people here,” he said. “Almost all our employees are long-tenured. We’ve got people who have been here 30-plus years, and they understand our mission: to strengthen customer satisfaction.”

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