Seeds of success

Building team's established relationship yields green industrial facility
August 11, 2010

When the Steelcase furniture manufacturing company decided to build a new wood furniture facility in nearby Dutton, Mich., the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company turned to some familiar faces. The company awarded a design/build contract to the Grand Rapids-based contracting firm of Owen-Ames-Kimball Co. (OAK), which partnered with the Grand Rapids office of A/E/CM and contractor URS Corp.

The three entities knew each other well, having worked on previous projects. This time, however, they were faced with a new challenge: building the first industrial facility to be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) under its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

At a ceremony in October in which the plant was awarded a silver rating, USGBC officials called the 600,000-sq.-ft. plant one of the most environmentally friendly industrial facilities in the United States.

Sustainable solutions

Out of necessity, the building team took a road less traveled on its way to certification, one that was paved with sustainable materials and innovative systems.

Faced with having to make the facility operational by April 2001, less than two years after work had commenced on the project, the team sought ways to speed the pace of construction. Enclosure of the building space and construction of floor slabs was of primary importance to enable crews to work on the project during the winter and because the owner had to have access to the building to begin installing the manufacturing equipment.

According to Max Blake, plant manager for Steelcase's wood division, team members visited a Steelcase plant in Atlanta to examine its use of insulated precast concrete wall panels as the building's exterior. The visit resulted in the team's selection of the same wall system for the Dutton facility. "When we decided to go for LEED certification we used all natural substrates in making the panels; no volatile organic chemicals in the manufacture of the panels or in the facility itself," says Blake.

The system not only helped the building meet energy efficiency standards, it shortened erection time. In all, 500 panels were erected, totaling 83,246 square feet. An average of 25 28-ft.-tall panels were installed a day.

"Phased precast erection and steel erection helped us get into the building and start pouring floors so we could gain access for the owner," says Brad McAvoy, project manager for OAK.

A ribbed, or raked, finish to the panels adds an aesthetic quality to the building. "It's a beautiful precast project. You can't tell where the panels start and stop," says McAvoy.

An 8-ft.-wide modular window system was planned in coordination with the wall system to ensure proper placement. The large windows allow significant amounts of daylight to enter the building. "You can see outside from any spot in the building," Blake says.

Thirteen 10-by-30-ft. opaque skylights placed at entryways and other key areas of the building also provide daylighting. "The skylighting and the windows in the facility are something that you don't see in most manufacturing facilities," says Bernard Wernette, architectural production manager for URS.

The nerve center for the building's systems is its energy management and temperature control system. Known as the BEAST (building enterprise automation system technology) to the team, the system was commissioned to ensure it uses the minimum required electrical current levels.

Seven dust collectors, which exhaust hot air, cool the facility in the summer. According to Steelcase, the action of pulling air from the facility through the dust collectors heats it to 78 F. The air is then filtered, tested and released through 62-in. ductwork to heat the plant.

Steelcase's desire to achieve LEED certification added between 3.5 percent and 5 percent to the cost of the $26 million project, according to team members. But the added cost is worth it, according to its owner. "This site represents the most advanced wood production facility in the world. It's achieved many of the economic attributes we expected, but it also has achieved much in the area of environmental advancement and enablement," said James P. Hackett, Steelcase's president and CEO, during the LEED certification award ceremony. "The development of this new manufacturing facility represents our commitment to promoting a healthy environment for our community."

Teamwork touted

Building team members stressed the importance of the team's established working relationship as the key to obtaining the LEED certification and completing the project on time and under budget.

"Both the architect and OAK have a long-lasting relationship with Steelcase and all the parties know what to expect as far as quality and performance," says Ronald Bieber, general superintendent for OAK.

"Up front, we met with the contractors and told them exactly what we were after," says Blake. "The communication factor was important in ensuring that everyone was on the same page for meeting the LEED criteria," says Bieber. "That needed to happen in order to meet the point systems for certification."

Criteria pose challenges

Meeting the LEED criteria for certification was challenging on several levels. Because the project represented the first time that any member of the building team had been involved with LEED, Steelcase, OAK and URS each designated staff members to undergo LEED training.

LEED certification is based on a point system awarded in five areas: energy efficiency; water management; materials and resource management; indoor environmental air quality; and site planning. Following completion, LEED personnel review the project and decide whether to award the building a rating of bronze (22-26 credits; 50-60 percent of total), silver (27-30 credits; 61-70 percent of total), gold (31-35 credits; 71-80 percent of total) or platinum (36 or more credits; 81 percent or more of total).

"Steelcase wanted to obtain a minimum bronze rating. They gave us something to shoot for from the start," says McAvoy. "The LEED program gives you a destination, but there are many different roads that you can take to get there. We had to figure out what path to take."

A first for an industrial facility

The project also was a milestone for the LEED program in that its criteria had never before been applied to an industrial facility. "The program is not set up for manufacturing facilities," says Wernette.

"We had to forge our own way," says McAvoy. "You have to start the documentation in the planning process because it needs to be in the project specifications. The parties involved in the project need to know what to expect up front."

Randy Bosler was appointed LEED coordinator for Steelcase and acted as the main go-between for the building team in working with the LEED program to ensure the project met with the criteria. "There was not a lot of documentation available to us," he says.

According to Peter Templeton, LEED program manager, the program is structured so that a level playing field exists across all building types. "There weren't any adjustments made in terms of credits for the project," he says. "The program is structured to be flexible."

But according to Bosler, some adjustments were made to accommodate the certification of a facility as large as the plant, which occupies 66 acres. For instance, an exception was made for the rule prohibiting disturbance of the site farther than 50 feet from the building perimeter.

LEED also set guidelines on requirements in meeting ASHRAE standard 90.1-1989 for energy efficiency. Manufacturing facilities are exempt from having to meet the ASHRAE standard, but LEED requires its buildings to meet the standard. Though LEED required that only the cafeteria and the office space above it meet the ASHRAE standard, Bosler says the team went beyond the guideline.

Another unusual aspect of the plant's certification process was that the team was required to remove the plant's manufacturing process loads from the building's energy modeling.

"From our standpoint, it was actually a very straightforward review process for the project," says Templeton. "The difficulty for Steelcase was that they had no model to learn from."

Since completion, Templeton says the LEED program has received many requests to speak with team members from others seeking certification of industrial facilities. As for Steelcase, the company has gained a green facility, and a productive one as well. "We are seeing great gains in production from our employees," says Blake.

Construction Costs

Sitework/landscaping $3,327,595
Footings, foundations, flatwork 2,122,196
Precast concrete 820,068
Masonry 481,208
Structural steel/metals 3,397,154
General trades 376,093
Membrane roofing 1,148,920
Metal roofing/wall panels 167,472
Hollow metal/hardware 59,117
Overhead doors 119,119
Glass/glazing 669,447
Finishes 484,970
Mechanical 7,225,014
Electrical 3,267,110
General conditions 2,707,673
TOTAL $26,373,156