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Engineers determine Orion Center HVAC system is failing

June 18, 2014 - By Meg Peters

Review Staff Writer

Multiple problems with the heating and cooling HVAC system at the Orion Center have prompted Orion Township officials to try to determine the cause of its failure.

The question is whether the cause is an installation or technical design issue, or both.

Township trustees previously approved an assessment of the two-year-old HVAC system, which does not properly control the cooling system in the summer or heating system in the winter.

According to OHM Township Engineer Sean Tabacsko, cost options to revamp the existing induction VAV (Variable Air Volume) system begin at $224,450 and range to $495,000.

Ever since its installation, Orion Center users have complained that rooms are either too hot or too cold.

"The main problem right now is the lack of reheats in the building and those reheat (coils) give us the ability to heat this facility up to the desired temperature," Tabacsko said.

There are roughly 62 rooms in the Orion Center. Only 11 reheat coils were installed in the entire building meaning 75 percent of the induction boxes lack these coils. Reheat coils provide individualized room climate control and since many of the rooms share VAV boxes, some of the rooms cannot keep up to speed.

"The unit gives off 55 degrees and some of the rooms have the ability to take that 55 degree air and heat it up to 75 or 85 degrees. Some of the areas don't have that luxury," Tabacsko explained.

OHM was not involved during the design or the construction of the HVAC system, which has a life expectancy of 15 to 20 years, and Tabacsko is not aware whether the system design lacks the coils, or whether they were simply not installed.

"It would appear that its missing key components to make the whole thing work appropriately, and that's what we are striving to fix," Operations Managers Jeff Stout said.

Existing HVAC System

Tabacsko and his team identified multiple issues with the existing HVAC system, the system operation and the maintenance operations.

Apart from the scant amount of heating coils, a plastic hot-water pipe creates hot-spots in the pipe which trap air making it difficult to retract air. A flow control device is missing in the existing reheat coil bypass piping. Return air for the facility is being dragged across cellulose insulation that clogs many components. The building has a negative air pressure problem and pulls in cold air during the winter. None of the VAV box filters have a filter system so dust particles are being recycled back into some individual rooms.

System Operations

Many of the roof top units—all of the fans, many VAV box controls and discharge air controls— were installed in 100 percent manual mode. Leaving these controls in manual mode was not ideal, OHM found, because the desired set-point temperature between heating and cooling air has been overridden.

"It's hard to maintain a set-point when the unit is fighting itself back and forth," Tabacsko told trustees.

Maintenance Operations

Incorrectly sized filters were installed and taped together to hold the gap existing between the filters, causing the filters to be sucked into the coil. As a result, fresh-air intake to certain rooms, such as the Orion Neighborhood Television Studio, is clogged with an ingestion of cottonwood and pollen.

Tabacsko showed trustees a picture of the filter.

"With my fingernail I could scratch off the dust. It is supposed to look like a residential window but it was caked with pollen. Very little fresh air is getting to that unit," he said.

Fixing the problems

Heating currently exists in the air handlers, but ultimately heating capacity must be added to individual rooms.

Tabacsko developed four options for trustees to consider at the next board meeting ranging in cost.

It's a matter of the amount of control the township desires.

"Some options give them greater ability for setback, which is turning the thermostats down at night, and the least expensive option give them a little bit less of that variability," he said.

Option 1 at $278,000 would add hot-water reheat coils to the system, and the alternative to option 1 at a cost of $224,450 would be to add electric reheat coils and electrical feeders. The other options add additional controls to provide greater managerial powers, ranging to $495,000.

"I think we are getting a much better handle on the maintenance problems, but the main focus now is the design of the system," Supervisor Chris Barnett said.

Barnett said he was just at the Orion Township firefighter graduation ceremony and the room temperature in the banquet hall was not bearable, hovering at what felt like 90 degrees.

"If there's a problem with the design we need to talk to the designers," Trustee John Steimel said. "If there is a problem with how it was installed we have a different group to blame."

The general contractor who built the Orion Center, L.R. Mullins of Lake Orion, hired the mechanical contractor Lee Industrial Contracting from Pontiac to install the current HVAC system. The Cummins Group of Utica designed it.

Tabacsko also explained that fixing the HVAC system still wouldn't lower utility costs because adding additional heat requires more energy.

At the Monday night board meeting trustees authorized the township attorney to send a letter to the contractors explaining that the current system doesn't match initial design intentions. Officials are waiting for the response before taking any action.

"The piece that is really the most important is the ability to have commissioning, or a verification step to make sure that the contractors did what was the intention of the design," Tabacsko said. "If one wire doesn't get put in the right spot, it's not by fault that they would do this, many times it is an over site."

Officials are hoping contractors will want to rectify and reverse the problems.

"We were just gaining momentum at the Orion Center, and two years in we are already having to sink money back into it. I want my money back," Clerk Penny Shults said.

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