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Renovation of a 1950s Teaching Laboratory, St. Albert's Hall Renovation, St. John's University

Asif Syed, AKF Engineers

St. John's University is located in Queens, New York, with campuses in Staten Island, Manhattan, and Long Island. St. Albert's hall is a 150,000-square-foot science building built in 1958 and is used for teaching laboratories, research laboratories, and staff offices.

History of mechanical systems: When built in 1958 the entire building was not air-conditioned. Operable windows provided air intakes at laboratories and exhaust was through central fans. Subsequent renovations included localized packed systems and split systems.

Renovation Mandate: Laboratories will be renovated into state-of-the-art teaching and research facilities. Teaching and research laboratories will provide flexibility of use, occupancy, and type of research.

Design Approach/Goals:

  • Use less energy
  • Optimize cooling infrastructure, such as chillers
  • Use heat recovery, avoid cross contamination
  • Minimize air change rate
  • Use local cooling devices
  • Provide flexibility of space
  • Reconfigure classrooms

Technologies adopted to achieve design goals:


  1. Reduce air change rate
  2. Low flow hoods
  3. Reduce heat burden on central air
  4. Energy recovery

Central Plant (Right-Sizing): Investigated capacities of adjacent buildings chillers and found excess. Extended chilled water loop. Existing plant was right-sized. Right-sizing opportunities exist beyond the project boundaries.

Energy Recovery: Investigated four options:

  1. Heat wheel
  2. Flat plate
  3. Heat pipe
  4. Run around

Lessons learned: appropriateness and applicability of devices. Load reduction for each device was calculated.

Air Change Reduction/Local Cooling Devices: All internal loads were not constant. Loads occurred for a brief period of time during a teaching session. The loads in research laboratories varied on the type of experiment and on time of the day. Most research programs had a life span of two to three years. Total air movement energy of central air system was compared with local cooling devices. Local cooling devices, which transport chilled water were far more efficient. Fan coil units and chilled beams were evaluated. Relative merits were considered. Fan coil units were chosen.

Flexible Space: Chilled water risers were universally located for easy tapping and disconnect. Vertical floor mounted and ceiling fan coils can be installed in laboratories.

Reconfiguration of Classrooms: Used overhead service carriers with utilities gas, water, air, and vacuum. Flexible braided hoses with quick disconnects were provided. The laboratory benches were moveable, allowing reconfiguring of the classrooms.


Asif Syed has 20 years of experience in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning industry. His experience includes working on institutional and commercial projects. Asif was senior vice president at Flack+Kurtz until 2003, where he pioneered new technologies of radiant cooling in New York City for the Hearst Building designed by Norman Foster, and under-floor air distribution for the Biltmore Broadway Theater and the Twin Towers of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Asif's experience includes working in Asia, Europe, Middle East, and South America. Asif's current projects include Pfizer Building 115, designed by Hillier Group, educational teaching laboratories at St. John's University and Stony Brook, and a LEED® Gold-rated laboratory project for the New Jersey Economic Development Authority in Newark, New Jersey.

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