The renovations to landmark Wickersham Hall at Millersville University included energy recovery wheels that reclaim energy from the exhaust air and introduce fresh air.

The forecast for new construction on campus may be cloudy, but these three projects illuminate a brighter horizon for renovations. See how 3-D modeling, laser scanning, and BIM are enabling efficient overhauls of existing buildings with disparate demands and purposes.

The current recession has forced many colleges and universities to shelve new building projects and to reconsider expansion plans until the economic climate improves. Yet, still in need of space to expand programs or add new technologies, many institutions are turning to existing buildings to meet these needs. The key decision on many of these projects is not whether to replace or renovate but how to economically modernize or repurpose these buildings.

A side effect of the current economic downturn, which makes moving forward on existing building renovations an opportunity worth serious consideration, is contractors’ highly competitive and aggressive bidding to land work.

Three major factors come into play when evaluating the adaptability of existing structures. The first focuses on the program: Can the existing building accommodate spatial requirements? The second focuses on building systems and whether to keep, modify, or totally upgrade them. The final factor focuses on how to incorporate new technologies into spaces that were not designed for them.

Figure 1. The new addition to the Science Complex at Binghamton University was located over the existing basement and connects to existing buildings.

A related factor has been the wholesale revolution in how engineers and architects approach the analysis of reusing existing structures. From the traditional method - reviewing as-builts, interviewing users and facility managers, and selective demolition - to employing 3-D laser scanning and modeling in a BIM environment, project teams today can quickly gather the data needed to make informed decisions.

Three recent campus building projects illustrate the evolution of the decisionmaking analysis process: on a Pennsylvania college campus, a 70-year-old building whose uses did not change but whose systems needed upgrading; a long-vacant building at a New York State university being converted into the School of Pharmacy; and an expansion of a science complex where connections to existing buildings were crucial.


Wickersham Hall is a 70-year-old multi-functional education building housing the computer science and mathematics departments. It is typical of countless older structures on college campuses across the country - not really replaceable because of their significance, but in dire need of renovation. Many institutions are focusing their limited dollars on improving their conditions at a time when large projects are on the back burner.

Sometime in their academic careers, almost all Millersville students take a course in this landmark structure on the edge of a pond. The building had a number of system challenges. Occupants suffered the consequences of an HVAC system where heating and cooling fought each other; a failing electrical system; a cobbled-together IT infrastructure; and deficiencies in fire safety, accessibility, and security systems.

With all these issues well documented, the design team analyzed how upgrades could be made within a limited $2.5-million budget and a constrained schedule - over summer breaks. Reliable as-built documents were not available, so field visits verified existing conditions and equipment. Since this project was completed prior to the existence of BIM, all field notes and dimensions were incorporated via CAD into design documents.

The existing HVAC system comprised closed-loop water source heat pumps (WSHP) with perimeter electric baseboard radiation. Occupants were unable to control the heat within their spaces, which resulted in energy inefficiencies and the inability to regulate comfort levels. The revised HVAC design reused most of the existing system components, but energy recovery wheels were added to reclaim energy from the exhaust air and introduce fresh air into the central outdoor unit. A new HVAC control strategy eliminated the energy waste from the simultaneous operation of electric baseboard and cooling units. The system was integrated into the campus-wide energy management system, enabling tighter control and optimization of energy use.

Other improvements included a new security access management system, new lighting technology and controls to enhance efficiency, a new main IT distribution room, and a dedicated cabling network installed with riser closets on each floor, a new sprinkler system throughout, and an upgrade of the life safety systems. In addition, access and accessibility features were upgraded to meet ADA standards.


The project at SUNY Buffalo represents the renewal of a long-unused building. Acheson Hall, the neglected building, is being transformed into a showcase for a prestigious program. In 2007, the university made a decision to move its School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, one of the top pharmacy schools in the country, into the nearly 150,000-sq-ft building that once housed the chemistry department. The project was developed in two phases, the first of which involved demolition of the building down to floors and structural elements.

The project’s architects spent considerable time analyzing how the old building could accommodate a complex program that included laboratories, classrooms, faculty and administrative offices, a museum, a pharmaceutical care center, library, an animal facility, and lounge/study spaces.

Figure 2. The HVAC systems for the Kapoor Hall laboratory complex at the University of Buffalo were placed on a new rooftop penthouse.

The reuse of the building structure presented several challenges to the MEP design. Floor-to-floor heights were less than those normally needed for some of the new uses; designs had to work around fixed structural elements, cast-in-place concrete floors could not be cut for new chases, and the roof’s structure limited the amount of weight that it could carry.

Using 3-D drawing tools, engineers responded to each floor plan alternative to see what would fit or not fit and where the best locations were for chases and equipment. The eventual solution focused on placing laboratories and spaces needing frequent air changes on the two top floors and placing all VAV system components in the rooftop penthouse. This reduced ductwork congestion in the ceilings on these two floors and allowed easier maintenance access to equipment.

The designed HVAC system is equipped with air-to-air heat recovery, water cooled chillers, and heating systems using campus steam.

In this project, many MEP drawings were developed in 3-D. The 3-D visualization of the complicated piping, systems, and equipment running through the building was a considerable help to designers during the analysis phase and to contractors bidding the project. The winning bid of $44.7 million was under the design estimate, with only a 2.7% spread among the four lowest bidders.

The new Kapoor Hall School of Pharmacy is under construction and will be completed by the end of 2011.


The new science building (Science V) at SUNY Binghamton takes an unusual twist on building renovations. While it is a new structure, its connections to existing buildings and its siting on a plaza over an underground basement created a number of design issues. When completed at the end of 2011, groups and functions from adjacent science buildings will migrate into the new facility so that the existing Science III and IV can be upgraded and renovated.

The design of the new Science V building addresses two significant challenges. One is that the floor-to-floor heights in the new structure had to match the floor-to-floor heights in the existing complex, which are low. This made it difficult to fit utilities into the spaces above the ceilings. The new building contains a number of laboratory and research spaces that require sophisticated air-handling systems and advanced temperature control. Most rooms were designed with volumetric airflow tracking control of the supply and exhaust systems to maintain proper relative pressurization between spaces.

The second challenge was that all the new building’s structural column locations had to align with the pre-existing column layout of the basement under the plaza, which meant a less-than-ideal floor plate for many spaces and for running piping.

To meet the design criteria and to prevent changes during construction, engineers used the 3-D design methodology for all building systems. Various alternatives developed by the architect were quickly analyzed for viability. Using 3-D modeling techniques and interference detection software, engineers coordinated the architectural, structural, and MEP systems and validated that they could be constructed as shown in traditional plans and elevations.

The design included close temperature, humidity, and pressurization control systems, air-to-air heat recovery systems, air cooled chillers, and heating systems using the campus high-temperature hot-water loop.

Because documents were designed and developed in BIM, construction bids were extremely close, with a winning bid of $26.5 million, 13% under the estimate. There was only a 4% spread between the six lowest bidders. Currently under construction, the 70,000-sq-ft project will be completed at the end of 2011.

Until endowments recover, donors return, and budgets reflect recovery rather than retrenchment, campuses will continue to look at existing buildings as opportunities for expansion and renovation. In the last two years, the explosive growth in the use of 3-D modeling, laser scanning, and BIM technologies in project design and management has led to a more efficient design process and to opportunistic bidding. So there has been a silver lining in the economic disruptions of the last 30 months that benefits those institutions that are moving forward on long-needed renovations. ES