There is a line that banners The Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Benefit of Humanity's website that reads: "... where the world's great ideas intersect."

It is a fitting description for the recently renovated building, originally built to house the Christian Science Publishing Society. Constructed between 1932 and 1934, the previous "Pub House" is an integral part of The First Church of Christ, Scientist headquarters, located in Boston's Back Bay. The building originally housed all the church's publishing-related activities. Today, it is a world-class library that draws visitors from all over the world.

Necessity breeds mechanical innovation

Great ideas aren't merely objects of preservation at the Mary Baker Eddy Library. The renovation, completed in 2002, gave rise to mechanical innovations, also. Contractors and suppliers had to customize solutions for the building's steam system to preserve the historic properties of the facility.

This wasn't always easy. The church properties were being switched from a pneumatic to an electronically actuated system that would be linked to a new Andover Controls BMS. Ultimately, the system would be more efficient, and easier to monitor and maintain. The challenge was making the switch without disturbing precious architectural details.

Throughout the building were original steam heat radiators, recessed into richly crafted mahogany woodwork. These radiators, and their associated pneumatic angle union valves, were hidden behind decorative, mesh-like coverings. The owner chose to keep these vintage radiators rather than risk damaging their surroundings. The steam piping that fed the radiators came up through a small hole in the existing marble floor. In several locations, the steam piping protruded from the floor about 2 1/2 in. and took a 90-degree turn into the radiator's side. Given these connection limitations, there was not enough room to install the Belimo steam valves and LF Series 35 in.-lb torque actuators with fail-safe spring return that were specified. Workers would have had to chip at the marble to make room to pipe the new valves. Some of the woodwork was also in the way.

BCM Controls of Boston, however, had an idea. The project manager asked Belimo if it could custom make an angle union valve, actuator, and linkage to fit. Belimo agreed and Brian Wheeler, Belimo's product manager for butterfly and specialty valves, set to work building approximately 60 custom-designed electronic angle union control valves. Once the valves were complete, installation was a simple matter of screwing each one into the steam pipe and radiator and hooking up three wires.

"It was important to the owner to protect the building's structure," said John Bycina of BCM Controls. "The custom valves helped preserve the integrity of the building and saved costs in specialized labor and finishing materials."

Maximum renovation, minimum interruption

The Mary Baker Eddy Library project was just one of many facilities on the church property undergoing renovations. The church's 28-story administration building was also being updated with new electronic controls for the existing steam system. Again, the merger of old and new presented certain challenges.

Throughout the building were dozens of pneumatically operated globe valves. The valves were not old, so the client was hesitant to replace them. Also, replacing the valve assembly would mean draining the entire system - or at least isolating several floors at a time. The piping work would have been cumbersome and the building activities would have been interrupted. This was problematic, since the church was preparing for two important events: Its annual meeting which would draw over 8,000 visitors worldwide and the Mary Eddy Library's grand opening. Therefore, a decision was made to replace only the actuators.

There was little, if any, materials cost to be saved this way. The client was aware that an actuator retrofit would cost just as much as new valve assemblies. But equipment cost was just part of the equation.

"First you have to remove the old valves, and completely repipe the system," explained Fred Ferrara of Belimo Aircontrols. "You also have to drain water from the entire system or at least partially, using isolation valves. If there is asbestos in the existing system, you have to pay to have it professionally removed. These are costly issues - not just in terms of labor, but in loss of productivity."

With the valve retrofits, the administration building was completely occupied during the mechanical renovation. Contractors worked on only a couple of floors at a time, so that administrative staff could temporarily move elsewhere in the building while work on their floor was completed.

Both projects were carefully thought out and carefully executed from start to finish. And they gave the owner confidence to include BCM and Belimo on further, property-wide renovations.ES