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Whitman Science Center

Mark Firestone, PAE Consulting Engineers, Inc.

The Whitman College Science Lab is a new 33,700 square foot addition to a 40-year-old science building located in Walla Walla, Washington. The building consists of classrooms, labs, lab offices, and a greenhouse arranged in a triangular shape encompassing a three-story atrium.

The design team incorporated various sustainable design concepts into the building. The final result is a building with a mechanical system that provides 100 percent outside air to the building for the majority of the year while using 34 percent less energy than a building built to meet the Washington State Energy Code.

The design team incorporated an innovative combination of existing technologies into the building including:

  • Air handling units that incorporate direct/indirect evaporative cooling with pumped heat recovery loop heat exchangers
  • Laboratory VAV (Variable Air Volume) system
  • Geothermal well water preheat coil
  • Variable speed drives
  • Premium efficiency motors
  • High efficiency water cooled chiller condensers cooled by geothermal well water
  • Office daylighting with dimmable ballasts controlled by photo cells
  • High performance glazing
  • Exterior shading

This innovative combination of sustainable features allows the owner to operate a research quality laboratory building with a mechanical system that provides 100 percent outside air to the building the majority of the year while using 34 percent less energy than a building built to meet the Washington State Energy Code. Incorporating these features will save the college approximately $21,000 per year in operating costs.

Labs21 Connection:

The mechanical system has three areas that technically contribute to the value of the engineering profession. The first is the use of a VAV laboratory airflow system; the second is the mechanical cooling reduction utilizing a direct/indirect heat exchanger; and the third is the cascading water use of an existing geothermal energy well water resource.

VAV Laboratory System
The foremost technical value is the design of a VAV laboratory system allowing significant energy savings, accurate temperature controls, precise pressurization control, and improved hood operation. Historically, the standard method of controlling laboratory airflow has been the constant volume approach. Constant volume fume hoods continually exhaust the same amount of air from the building. A constant exhaust rate is maintained regardless of fume hood use or building occupancy. The result is significant energy waste and all central plant equipment sized for worst peak conditions with no diversity.

Direct/Indirect System
The second area of technical value in the design is a system that utilizes a direct/indirect evaporative system to "free" cool the 100 percent outside air laboratory system.

Cascading Water Use
The new mechanical system incorporates an existing geothermal well water system as a first stage of heating and as condenser water for a more efficient water-cooled chiller. The college was the first to utilize the geothermal Walla Walla aquifer for heating purposes. The 1,300 foot deep aquifer produces ground water, warmed from the earth's core, at a constant 74°F. The college has developed an innovative cascading well water system, which reuses the water multiple times. The water is pumped from the ground, used for pre-heating/condenser water, discharged into an underground tank, circulated out to heat/cool a second building on campus (Memorial Building) using water to air heat pumps, and is drawn out for irrigation and pumped through a central fountain to evaporatively cool the water before finally being discharged into a local stream.


Mark Firestone has extensive experience designing mechanical systems for hospitals, laboratories, airports, museums, educational facilities, office buildings, and retail establishments. His designs have included many cost-effective, energy efficient systems. These systems have featured geothermal heat pumps, natural ventilation, heat recovery chillers, exhaust air heat recovery, waste water heat recovery, variable speed hot and chilled water pumping, as well as many innovative control schemes for reducing energy consumption. In addition, Mark has performed numerous energy studies utilizing computer modeling to analyze energy conservation measures and lifecycle costs of alternative HVAC and lighting systems.

Mark received his BS in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University, New York, NY, in 1982 and his BA in Economics from Miami University in Oxford, OH, in 1980. Mark is a member of the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and he served as the Oregon Chapter President during 1996-97.


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