ATLANTA — Over the course of its 91-year history, Georgia State University has been constantly updating and expanding its facilities. The university is currently executing a multi-phase strategic plan that extends out to 2021.
Phase one includes the 200,000-sq.ft. Law Building, the university’s first dedicated legal education facility. The $62.8 million facility will include a conference center, a 230-seat ceremonial courtroom, flexible learning space, a two-story law library, areas for clinical practice and community outreach and an International Arbitration Center. It is scheduled to be ready for fall classes in 2015, and achieve LEED Silver certification — two very ambitious goals.
McCarthy Building Companies is the general contractor in charge of the project, and doing the hvac/chiller portion of the mechanical systems is Gainesville Mechanical, a full-service mechanical contractor that has been in business since 1989.
“We do residential, commercial, industrial,” said Rusty Gravitt, president of Gainesville Mechanical. “Our annual revenue is around $25 million a year.” Because of its capabilities, Gainesville actually pursues the technically demanding jobs. “They tend to have longer schedules, to last a little longer,” Gravitt explained.
The Law Building project has been keeping his crew of about 40 workers extremely busy since March. “The most challenging aspect of this project has been the schedule,” Gravitt said. The job has been fast-tracked both to meet the schedule of the school year as well as fit the upcoming phases of the development plan.
“It’s a full tenant build-out,” Gravitt said, “so the building will be fully occupied when the building opens. It’s not like a typical shell building or plan-and-spec building where you wait on tenants to lease space. This building is fully occupied on day one.”
Complicating matters is the urban location. GSU is affectionately known as “The Concrete Campus” since university buildings are clustered around downtown Atlanta.
“The site is right off Peachtree Street,” Gravitt said — basically what Broadway is to New York or State Street is to Chicago. “It’s a heavy pedestrian area … there’s retail and commercial office space mixed in with classroom buildings … and there’s no parking on this site. There’s just enough room for a tractor-trailer to back into the site, be unloaded and then exit the site.”
All of which made installing the air handling units exceptionally challenging. The units come in six- and eight-piece sections weighing 10,000-lbs. to 12,000-lbs. “So you had to be able to rig the pieces, get them to the mechanical room, set them on the curb and then quickly join the sections, and then be ready for the next truck to pull in,” Gravitt said. “And all this has to happen in an eight-hour day.” The site used a power crane to hoist sections to the roof.
So that the crew’s first sight of the air handling units wouldn’t be when they pulled them off the back of a truck, Gainsville Mechanical flew key personnel out to the manufacturer’s factory where they spent a day-and-a-half studying the connection points. It helped to make the final assembly that much easier.
While the air handlers were being installed on the roof, the chillers were being installed in the basement.
The chillers are a key element of the designer’s LEED strategy (which includes sustainable building materials, a green roof and more). The chillers, manufactured by Daikin, use a bearing-less magnetic drive to reduce heat and friction during operation. A variable refrigerant flow cooling system allow for efficient multi-zone temperature control while eliminating air and water as heat transfer mediums.
“The chillers are set up in redundancy,” Gravitt said, “so we have a primary and secondary chiller. The architect/engineer was very thoughtful in giving us the proper space to build the [basement] mechanical room.” Gainsville Mechanical is now analyzing of the cost-benefit of adding a water-side economizer to the chiller system.
Virtually every room in the new Law Building will have its own thermostat, with everything tied into a central building automation system.
Gainsville Mechanical fabricated all the ductwork in-house. “As a floor would come open, starting on the ground floor and moving up floor-by-floor, our process on the project was to have no more than five days inventory waiting to be installed,” Gravitt said.
It has made for a series of logistical problems, and Gravitt has been glad to find his staff more than equal to the task. “We’ve been very successful in managing our workflow and managing our inventory. I’m very proud of our project management staff and our estimating staff. They’ve done an awesome job of building and managing, not only the flow of labor and materials, but also our morale on this project. They’ve just done a great job of keeping the staff upbeat and continually moving forward.”
On June 25, university donors, staff and construction teams celebrated the placing of the last structural beam on the new Law Building with a “Topping Out” ceremony. Rusty Gravitt and Gainesville Mechanical are looking forward to their own milestone on November 3. That’s the date on which they’re scheduled to start up the chillers.
“We turned the first wrench on the first of March,” Gravitt said, “and to start up those chillers November 3, it is just a tremendous task.”
But all the hard work is showing impressive results, and hopefully won’t go unnoticed once completed. “We are continually looking to expand relationships with these higher education customers and end users,” Gravitt said. “We’re certainly hoping that this project proves to be just one of many with Georgia State.”