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It’s not often that hydronics is breaking news at a metro TV station. WGAL TV is an NBC affiliate based in Lancaster, Pa. Since its inception in 1949, it’s covered worldwide accomplishments and calamity, several wars and — nearby — the near meltdown of the TMI nuclear power plant, among countless other stories.
OK, it wasn’t exactly breaking news, but its old boilers — and a wide range of other mechanical equipment — had reached retirement age. They’d served the facility well.
As luck would have it, facility managers invited the expert opinion of Ken Kauffman, PE, and president of Lancaster-based Moore Engineering Co., prior to the onset of COVID-19 in 2020. As WGAL prepared to implement Moore Engineering’s recommendations for a comprehensive building system upgrade, the pandemic hit. The TV station, like many others around the country, shifted its operations to mainly remote locations.
“In essence, the station was mostly empty for more than a year,” Kauffman says.
In the months leading up to the pandemic, Moore Engineering had prepared detailed system performance reports, with carefully mapped projections of how its retrofit design would improve energy efficiency and mechanical system performance.
Under the magnifying glass: the entire facility
“We were hired to develop a plan to completely upgrade the HVAC systems in the facility,” Kauffman explains. “The original building systems served the station well for decades, yet it was clear to us that modern building systems would dramatically enhance indoor air quality, operational and energy efficiency, comfort — and sound, a facet of mechanical system operation that’s often overlooked.”
The engineering firm’s evaluations of MEP systems were expanded to include the entire structure at precisely a time when another coincidence happened: Managers recognized the need for sweeping renovations to the facility’s interior. This would entail modernizing the building’s studios, offices, workspaces and a grand entry area.
“Our assessment of WGAL’s building included walls, roof, insulation, lighting and accessibility,” Kauffman adds. The building served the TV station’s needs well, but the investment in its high-level TV programming and news coverage had taken precedence.
“After all, the sort of work we proposed would create a lot of dirt and noise — not conducive to live TV/news coverage,” Kauffman explains. “You simply can’t shut down the news. It’s a key reason why the building hadn’t been renovated in decades.”
Ultimately, the recommendations offered by Moore Engineering were accepted and served as the blueprint to a thorough modernization of the almost 60,000-square-foot facility.
As for the mechanical systems, all key parts and components were to be replaced. WGAL managers chose Gap, Pa.-based CMC Inc. as the mechanical contractor to do the work. CMC’s role required an 18-month commitment, yet, as a leading regional commercial MEP contracting firm, this was the sort of work that fit nicely into its area of expertise.
For the HVAC project, CMC acted as the general contractor and engaged multiple subs to perform the general construction, such as structural work, walls, ceilings and painting.
The MEP overhaul required the replacement of the station’s chillers, boilers, pumps and air handlers. New variable air volume (VAV) systems were installed along with ductwork and controls.
According to CMC’s Director of Operations, Eric Hodgdon: “Four existing air handlers and two boilers in the facility were replaced, along with all the heating and chilled water piping. This required a lot of coordination and phasing to keep the facility conditioned throughout the project.”
CMC teams began their work in the lower level mechanical room and removed the two older cast-iron boilers at the end of their service life, he says.
“We then began installation of new chillers, chilled water pumps and variable-frequency drives (VFDs),” Hodgdon explains. “When we turned on the new pumps and chillers, it allowed us to demo the old chilled water system on the second floor and to install the new boilers and pumps.” The goal was to get the new boilers online before the fall 2020 heating season.
“This was made easy because of the compact design of the Thermal Solutions boilers,” he continues. “Their small size allowed us to rig the boilers through an existing window. The integrated boiler control panel, high turndown and efficiency made them easy phase-in replacements for the existing system.
“As we turned in newly finished areas, the boilers easily ramped up to meet the needs of the heating season. We used the existing piping and installed new valves to allow us to demo and replace piping while keeping the facility conditioned.”
CMC technicians mounted 7.5 horsepower pumps on vibration isolation pads to keep the transfer of mechanical noise to a minimum. CMC’s use of VFDs and two-way control valves also allowed for a much more energy-efficient system compared to the old constant volume system.
“The existing air handlers were replaced with Trane units and VAVs,” Hodgdon adds. “The new air handlers were disassembled on-site and reassembled in the mechanical rooms to use existing openings in the building for rigging. Staging of temporary air handlers throughout the facility was necessary to keep engineering rooms at proper temperatures through the renovation. The WGAL staff was extremely accommodating and understanding throughout the whole process.”
Kauffman clarifies: “Initially, there were four air handlers; now they have five at WGAL. An existing air handler was modified, and the other three were replaced with four new ones. This assisted with phasing and offers greater flexibility when a unit needs to be shut down for maintenance.”
New boilers present considerable energy savings
Moore Engineering specified two 2,000 MBH condensing, natural gas-fired Thermal Systems AMP boilers to replace WGAL’s aging boilers. The new, ultra-high efficiency, stainless-steel boilers provide a 5:1 turndown, 97 percent efficiency, and require only half the square footage of the previous boilers.
According to Ann Swartzbaugh, Thermal Solutions regional manager, a small mechanical room on the second floor of the facility easily accommodated the new boilers.
“We’ve had plenty of previous experience with the AMP boilers and knew them to be an ideal fit for this application,” Kauffman explains. “The boilers are dedicated to space-heating needs at WGAL.”
The boilers send heated water to approximately 75 VAV boxes throughout the TV/news station. According to Kauffman, five main air handlers serve the HVAC needs of the building. All the VAV boxes and air handlers include hot water coils for heat. The systems provide year-round comfort at WGAL.
“Ventilation was another important facet to the HVAC retrofit work,” Kauffman says. “It was already on the list of needs to be addressed, but the COVID-19 pandemic spurred interest worldwide in the need for improved ventilation — especially the introduction of fresh air. There’s no question that indoor air quality needs became a focus throughout the planning process.”
He adds: “Part of meeting those needs required a close look at air filtration. So, with the accommodation for continuous ventilation, we specified broad use of MERV 14 filters. These filters are designed to capture very small particulate and assist with maintaining clean air.”
Throughout the process, say CMC’s Hodgdon and Moore’s Kauffman, there were no real surprises.
“The only unexpected need we came across was the need for face masks to be worn continuously while at WGAL,” Kauffman notes. “Suddenly, the world was wearing them, and the work at WGAL was no exception.”
During the summer of 2020, that presented some discomfort for the technicians doing the work, although with the station essentially shut down, the pace of work accelerated. So, those doing the work merely had to adjust.
“WGAL’s managers were, however, nicely surprised with the reductions they saw immediately reoccupying the facility,” Kauffman says. “The drop in cost for gas and electricity was quickly seen and very favorable. A bit harder to discern were the vast improvements made to comfort and indoor air quality.”
A significant contributor to the improved energy efficiency at WGAL happened because of the boiler replacement. According to Kauffman, the boiler efficiency went from 65 percent to 70 percent to the current mid- to high-90 percent.
“The boiler plant played a major role in the total energy savings obtained in the project,” he explains. “Other contributing factors included new chillers, VFDs, new insulation, improved controls, VAV systems, tighter ducts and LED lighting systems. The overall combined impact made an enormous difference in WGAL’s energy costs. Managers expressed a high level of satisfaction with the project and the new system’s performance.”