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Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, prides itself on — among other things — its engineering program and cutting-edge research capabilities. Founded in 1930 by the College of William & Mary and Virginia Polytechnic Institute, the two-year school initially focused on educating teachers and engineers.
It rapidly evolved into a four-year university with six colleges, and today is one of the largest universities in Virginia with an enrollment of 24,176 students for the 2019 academic year. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching designated Old Dominion as a high-research activity research university.
For those who do not hail from Virginia, the name “Old Dominion” is a well-known nickname for the state given by King Charles II of England for remaining loyal to the British monarchy during the English Civil War.
As the time approached for ODU to update its chiller-based central utility plant, the university began to map out a plan with general contractor WM Jordan and one of WM Jordan’s long-time construction management partners, JRC Mechanical of Chesapeake, Virginia. The project would include tearing out the plant’s existing pump skid with three chilled water pumps and three condenser loop pumps, and adding a new 1,200-ton chiller and a fourth cooling tower to increase the plant’s capacity.
As WM Jordan, JRC Mechanical and ODU analyzed the project, original estimates were that it would take about four months — a timeline that would have caused considerable disruption for the university. The project team, however, came up with a better plan: using Aquatherm pipe to take the project from start to finish in just five weeks. The university had experience with the company’s PP-R piping, as it had been used in a recent replacement of the domestic water system, condenser loop and heating water loop at its football stadium.
Because several of the university’s residential buildings would be affected, there was no margin for error on the project’s completion date. However, JRC Mechanical and the university knew they could make it work through careful planning and by taking full advantage of Aquatherm’s Scan-to-Fab and Fabrication Services teams.
Aquatherm’s heat fusion process can generate significant time- and labor-savings on piping projects. Heat fusion can be performed in a fraction of the time it takes to weld steel, resulting in a homogenous connection with virtually no possibility of leak paths.
The Scan-to-Fab service provides a trained technician performing an onsite job scan using a 360-degree laser scanner. The resulting point cloud can be used to create a fabrication model and fabrication spool drawings. It helps ensure the accuracy of measurements (down to 1/8 inch), reduces measurement man-hours, facilitates quicker installation on complex projects and provides as-built dimensions.
“This had originally been designed as a four-month process, but working with Aquatherm enabled us to get it done during the winter break at the university, from mid-December to mid-January,” says Richard Goad, project executive at JRC Mechanical.
Aquatherm came into the existing building and scanned it completely, and to help Goad’s team coordinate the plant install.
“We took the cloud points from the scan and sent the model drawings to Aquatherm’s fabrication group, Goad adds. “They took that and, along with the chiller and cooling tower dimensions from our vendors, used the information to custom fabricate the pipe for this facility.”
Goad noted that the manufacturer allowed JRC Mechanical to save 10 to 15 fabrication personnel on this project. The contractor also didn’t have to invest in building a fab shop and stocking it with tools.
For the onsite heat-fusion connections, Goad credits his crew and his local Aquatherm representative at Trey Steigelman at Ferguson Enterprises.
“Trey from Ferguson was a superstar,” Goad says. “He did a great job of training our installation team; he worked day and night shifts making sure we had everything we needed.”
For the first two weeks of the project, the JRC Mechanical team worked 24-hours a day and then continued to work through the holidays, taking only Christmas day off.
Overall, the central utility plant project included installation of a pump skid built by Canariis consisting of three 250-horsepower chilled water pumps and three 50-horsepower condenser water pumps. Aquatherm supplied more than 700 feet of Blue Pipe SDR 17.6, with a 20-inch header on the chilled waterside and an 18-inch header off the condenser that feeds back to the cooling towers. Also included were the new chiller and cooling tower.
Other products key to the success of the project are York chillers, an EVAPCO cooling tower, Siemens variable-frequency drives, and Bell & Gossett pumps.
Building a project team
David Robichaud, director of design and capital construction at Old Dominion University, notes that the central utility plant project was an important one for the university.
“We have six housing buildings and a dining facility on this plant, and we’re about to put an athletic building, new chemistry building, and new 470-bed residence hall on it as well,” he explains. “So, not only was it an important project for the university, but it was also important that we get all those buildings up and running in such a short period.”
Robichaud adds that the university prides itself on building the right team for every project it undertakes.
“Everyone involved set us up for success,” he notes. “We mapped this project out very carefully; we have been very confident all along it would succeed.”
“The coordination between JRC Mechanical, Aquatherm, Ferguson, WM Jordan and ODU went really well,” Goad adds. “The staff at ODU was ecstatic about the system being up and running when they needed it to be.”
Goad was pleased to report that the system passed the pressure test with flying colors.
“There were no leaks whatsoever in any of the assemblies Aquatherm fabricated, and our guys didn’t have to take down and re-do any of their fusion connections,” he says. “We installed it, tested it and everything was good.”
Robichaud notes that the university is “still taking the system for a test drive,” but the plant and all the buildings that rely on it are functioning as intended.
“It gave us the upgrade we needed,” he explains. “Using Aquatherm shortened the time of the project to one we could live with.”
ODU Director of Operations and Maintenance John Hasher, CEM, adds that the manufacturer’s PP-R piping represents an easy system for facility managers and building operations personnel to live with day to day.
“On the maintenance side, the PP-R pipe significantly reduces or eliminates the problems corrosion and scaling can cause over the life of the building,” Hasher says. “In addition, the heat-fused connections are more reliable than the connection methods used to join traditional pipe. With iron or steel pipe, most leaks don’t come from the pipe itself; they come from the ‘human element’ of fabricating the system: the joints and welds. But with Aquatherm, the finished product is sealed tight and is significantly more durable than traditional piping systems.”
Hasher is happy to share his experiences with other end-users.
“When we come across things that work and are proven in the field, we should take the opportunity to let other people know about the product and its benefits,” he says. “We were all smarter together than we are individually.”
Robichaud adds that it’s likely the university will spec Aquatherm PP-R plastic piping as the campus continues to grow. But, for now, there was one more plus to complete this project during the winter break.
“The good news is we didn’t have to greet the returning students with bad news,” he says.