By Natasha Ashenhurst
Years ago, if you were to look at Olympia’s East Bay waterfront, you would see a flame along the skyline that was always burning. “They would burn-off the methane produced through the waste-water treatment process. Now we’ve captured that methane and we’re heating water with it, which in turn is used to heat the Hands On Children’s Museum,” said Joe Bettridge of Sunset Air. The warm water loop is just one example of the many creative and innovative systems that Sunset Air used to create an efficient and cost effective HVAC system for the Museum.
November marked the one-year anniversary of the Hands On Children’s Museum’s new building located on Olympia’s East Bay waterfront. The museum is a model of sustainability and sits on a reclaimed industrial area of about 14 acres that the Port of Olympia turned into streets and buildable lots.
Over the past year the new building has received well-deserved recognition. Local subcontractors played a significant role in not only creating a beautiful and innovative building, but in saving the Museum a significant amount of money, and Sunset Air took the lead in many aspects of the project.
The first HVAC proposal that the Museum received came in over budget. “We figured out how to reduce costs and maintain performance through a system called value engineering, simply an economical way of doing the same thing,” said Joe Bettridge of Sunset Air.
They also solicited their favorite suppliers that they worked with day in and day out to help complete the project on budget through donating some of the materials needed to install the mechanical systems.
“We went to our suppliers and said, ‘Hey, this is a great organization. Could you do an in-kind donation? And most of them said ‘Yes.’ The way this works is that if the cost of a service is normally $100,000, they would do it for $85,000 instead and write off $15,000 as a taxable donation,” he said.
The system Sunset Air designed is cool, no pun intended. Because of their proximity to LOTT (waste water treatment facility), the recovered methane heats the water in a warm water loop, and then is piped over to the Museum. This was the first waste-heat system installed by Sunset Air.
Another innovative cost saving measure is in the duct system. Walk into most buildings and you’ll see sheet metal ducting. At the Museum it is made out of fabric. “Fabric is much quieter, and the whole fabric system is a diffuser. When the air turns off the fabric hangs like a drape. When the fan turns on the fabric fills up with air. Fabric also works well at the Museum because it absorbs noise instead of bouncing noise around. It is attractive as well,” said Bettridge.
Sunset Air also installed a state of the art energy management system. Administrators can log onto the system from anywhere in the world and look at the building over the internet. “For example, if the Museum has a special event outside of normal business hours, we can reprogram the heating and cooling system for them without having to step foot into the building. Or, if there is problem we need to solve we can get a handle on the scope from our office,” he said.
The building also features individual water source heat pumps throughout the building, a fresh air ventilation system cleaned by Guardian Air which is an advance oxidization process that makes the museum air very clean. It has CO2 controls in all the large galleries and meeting spaces so the system doesn’t over ventilate, thus conserving energy.
Kathy Irwin, the Museum’s Director of Exhibits and Facilities said, “We love Sunset Air. They are amazing to work with, their staff are knowledgeable and friendly, and their service is above outstanding.”
Patty Belmonte, Executive Director of the Museum agrees. “Sunset Air is a regional company who takes pride in its work in the South Sound. We wanted to build the highest quality building for the funds we had to invest and knew we needed Sunset on our team to make this vision a reality. Through creative design and unexpected solutions, Sunset Air saved the Museum $100K on its HVAC system – one of the most expensive features of our new building. And happily we feel we compromised very little to achieve these savings,” she said.
“Sunset Air worked alongside our contractor to find solutions that were effective and saved us money. In addition, they rallied many of their suppliers to help the Museum project as well,” summarized Belmonte.