Pace-Setting Steelcase Project Wins Engineering Honors

April 10, 2002
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LANSING — URS Corp. and Owen–Ames–Kimball (OAK) are joint winners of a state-level engineering award for their collaboration in putting the “green” into the Steelcase Wood Furniture Manufacturing Facility.

The American Consulting Engineers Council of Michigan in late February conferred its 2002 Honorable Conceptor Award for Engineering upon the two firms for their work for the furniture manufacturer.

What the URS-OAK team also accomplished was Steelcase Inc.’s designation as the first and, so far, only manufacturer to receive certification for a manufacturing site under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Pilot 1.0 version developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Moreover, the 600,000-square-foot structure is the first that Steelcase has had constructed using the design-build approach that URS-OAK employed in the project.

When Steelcase decided to build a new wood manufacturing plant, it made a public commitment to be as environmentally friendly as possible. URS and OAK planned the project jointly with Steelcase.

Steelcase registered under the pilot or 1.0 version of the LEED program.

What URS and the general contractor had to do then was implement the LEED program guidelines to reduce not only environmental disruption stemming from construction processes, but also the impact of the building’s physical presence upon its 60-acre site and, finally, reduction of the stress that the building’s manufacturing processes exert upon the environment.

The LEED program breaks a building’s environmental impact into five categories: sustainable sites, energy efficiency, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and safeguarding water. 

A project must satisfy the five prerequisites before it begins accumulating award credits and accompanying points. The final point tally grants LEED certification on bronze, silver, gold or platinum levels. Steelcase received silver certification.

OAK advises that 100 percent of construction waste typically ends up in a landfill, but that in fulfillment of LEED guidelines, the Steelcase project involved recycling nearly half of all construction waste.

The project earned one LEED credit, for instance, by buying at least 20 percent of its materials from sources within a 300-mile radius of the job site, thus reducing transportation costs, fossil fuel use and consequent air pollution.

Likewise, Steelcase itself has implemented parking policies with the same goals in mind.

Employees who drive a gas-electric hybrid vehicle receive preferred parking spaces closer to the building. Too, those who commute to work with three or more riders also receive preferred parking space.

The firm also encourages bikers by providing locking racks (made of recycled materials) and on-site shower rooms.

The project earned LEED credits by employing carpet, roofing, insulation and fire protection systems that use no chlorofluorocarbon (CFC). The 13-acre roof also has CFC-free foam insulation blown into place with agents that also are free of CFC.

The project involved no asbestos. And, all the 24,000 gallons of paint, plus sealers and primers used in the project, either were water-based or used low-volatility compounds.

Production within the facility will employ water-based paints and sealants, which has lowered volatile chemical emissions from 800 tons to less than 200 tons a year.

Spokesmen for Steelcase say the firm had not been involved in a design-build previously, and found that it worked very well. Because the company was working directly with a single design-build entity, communication was clearer and more opportunities existed to impact construction costs.

The project was budgeted at $29.4 million and the final cost was under $26.1 million — this despite the fact that pursuing LEED certification added a premium of 3.5 percent to materials costs.

The Steelcase facility was completed on time and in full operation in August 2001.

Following are several examples of green “thinking” which the URS-OAK team employed in the project.

**Mechanical-Electrical Systems — Each system uses only the minimum required electrical current levels and still operates according to the manufacturer’s specification.

The systems adhere to the two key LEED energy efficiency guidelines: ASHRAE 90.1 and Title 9 of the California Public Lighting Act. The Steelcase project exceeds the ASHRAE standard established as a prerequisite in the LEED energy-efficiency section.

**Lighting — Plant lighting is monitored by a computer to maintain only necessary lighting. Office lights automatically shut off after a predetermined amount of time when a room is not in use.

** Waste Heat Recovery — Seven dust collectors, which pull hot air out of the facility, cool the facility during the summer. The action of pulling and filtering air from the facility through the dust collectors heats the air to 78 degrees.  During winter, the warmed, filtered air then is released through 62-inch ductwork to heat the facility.

The facility has air monitors that track carbon dioxide emissions.  The ventilation system also has numerous 8-by-8 wall-mounted intake fans to circulate fresh air.  Air intakes are located away from loading docks and exhaust fans.

Negative air pressure in chemical storage areas isolates those areas, preventing circulation of chemical vapors in the rest of the structure.

Reducing demand upon the cooling system is reflective, light-colored stone, which covers the plant’s massive single-ply roof surface.

** Water Recovery — Roof and groundwater collectors direct runoff into three retention ponds for eventual landscaping irrigation. This process conserves 715,000 gallons of water per year. Contributing to that savings are water-conserving cooling towers, which reduce loss through evaporation.

The retention ponds also have filtering that prevents polluted parking lot runoff from going into storm sewers in the event of overflows.

*Water Efficient Landscaping — Landscaping is focused on low-maintenance plants, including several that are native to the area.  The planners refrain from using fertilizer that adds unnecessary nitrates to the ground water. The facility’s lawn is sheep fescue, which requires minimal mowing once established. 

The site earned LEED credits in that it disrupted neither wetlands nor an extensive tract of trees.

Prior to excavation, the contractor removed and stored topsoil on-site for re-use in creating landscaped islands between parking areas and berms that help shield the massive plant from its neighbors. 

Steelcase planted more than 950 native cherry, hard maple and walnut trees throughout the site.  The trees also provide shade to the parking areas. The firm stresses that it exceeded the local zoning ordinance’s open space requirements by 25 percent.

URS says it believes the project demonstrates that environmentally sensitive construction can be accomplished with minimal additional cost to the owner. 

Ranked first in Engineering News-Record’s current list of the top 500 design firms, URS provides architectural, engineering and planning services to clients in education, health care, government, industry, commercial-retail, and surface and air transportation. 

URS is a publicly held company listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE:URS).

OAK has been in the construction contracting business for 111 years.

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