Geothermal System for New School

Geothermal system water pumps

Geothermal System was installed at New Raleigh Elementary School is a new construction build in Sophia, West Virginia. The facility is part of Raleigh County’s comprehensive educational facilities plan to prepare for the closures of three nearby elementary schools by 2020. This new school will offer students a learning environment focused on student engagement, science, math, engineering, and technology (STEM) education.

Southern Air’s Bluefield team won the mechanical contract with BIM coordination. The bidding process was atypical as it was a multiple prime contract, meaning most specialty contractors, like Southern Air, sign individual contracts with the owner and not a single general contractor. The West Virginia School Building Authority partially funded the project, meaning we had to hand-carry sealed envelopes containing detailed paperwork for the public bid opening. If the paperwork was ever wrong, the bid was discarded without being considered. Southern Air’s Executive Secretary Janet Martin, and Project Manager Assistant Jennifer Harris did a masterful job during the bid process to ensure all paperwork was correct and in Bluefield at the right time.

The New Raleigh Elementary project needed three of Southern Air’s trades: HVAC, pipefitting, and insulation. This included pipe fitting with high-density polyethylene (HDPE) piping. This effort was headed by Buster Dunford and Troy Walker, who did a first-rate job, considering this type of pipework was a first for the Bluefield team. Ralph Billings and Terry Thomason handled the metal duct installation while Eric Davidson headed up the insulation of piping and ducting. The project was overseen on the ground by Bluefield foreman, Earl Beck.

“Earl is a highly experienced tradesman in the MEP trades and managed all of the coordination of our efforts with each of our trades and with the other prime contractors,” says Larry Coburn, Southern Air Bluefield Construction project manager. “Earl has spent time in estimating and project management throughout his career, but his chief gift is as a site superintendent.  Simply put, he knows what to do and when.”

The main heating and cooling for this building is completely geothermal with multiple underground water wells serving as the port for heat rejection in summer and heat collection in winter. The earth itself serves the roles for both. These wells were installed underground by a specialty contractor and attached to inside the building by Bluefield’s tradesmen.

The school is constructed with insulated concrete forms, resulting in a reduced need for mechanical heating and cooling. The only gas heating is provided by the two dedicated outdoor air units, which only provide the necessary amount of ventilation air to the spaces. Otherwise, the rest of the building relies on water source heat pumps on a two-pipe geothermal system. Coburn credits Southern Air’s Water Treatment Department for all the guidance understanding geothermal piping.

Part of the bid process consisted of BIM coordination, a first for Bluefield both as a bid and as a project utilizing BIM technology. Bluefield’s team was introduced to Southern Air’s BIM process, which involved more than simply working together. The BIM department not only played their part in build, but also had to do some rudimentary training to ensure Coburn’s team understood the drawings and how to problem solve,  as this was their first exposure to the process.

“The SAI BIM team working with the Bluefield office for the first time was a great experience,” says Wayne Harris, Southern Air BIM manager. “We don’t see geothermal mechanical systems very often but through great communication and feedback with Larry Coburn and (foreman) Earl Beck, we were able to navigate fairly quickly through any design problems we encountered. We look forward to working with the Bluefield team again in the future.”

Ronnie Lloyd, Southern Air BIM detailer was equally instrumental throughout the process. Lloyd took the lead on the geothermal piping and provided the necessary information to coordinate the header piping to the geothermal wells.

The Southern Air team, including James Hughes and Shawn Harris, both sheet metal mechanics, Darrin McGuire, plumbing/pipefitting apprentice, and everyone else involved, are proudly walking away from New Raleigh Elementary school. This challenging project tested new capabilities and pushed many of our tradesmen to work long hours for months, and they could not have done a more outstanding job. Coburn boasts about other firms working on-site referring to his tradesmen as “rock stars,” due to the ease of conflict resolution, updating the model as needed, and the immense pride they take in their work.

The pride comes not from the outstanding installations, but knowing our work will result in a comfortable building where children can focus on learning.

Summer is over and class is in session at New Raleigh Elementary.

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