Even during non-pandemic times, the continued operation of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (or HVAC) systems on UGA’s campuses takes a coordinated effort.
UGA’s more than 12 million square feet of academic, research, student service, and public service and outreach facilities include 796 air handler units, 130 chillers and 1,506 other refrigerant-based HVAC systems, all maintained by Facilities Management Division staff.
“The entire FMD team has stepped up to the challenge this past year,” said Ralph Johnson, associate vice president for FMD. “The lessons that we learned last year as well as many of the process improvements that the team put into place will continue this fall and well into the future.”
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic—and in addition to the visible campus-wide disinfection activities performed by FMD Building Services—the FMD Operations and Maintenance team implemented measures to increase the daily air changes to more than 5.1 million square feet of campus. They also installed portable HEPA filtration units in classrooms and inspected all of the campus HVAC systems in preparation for the phased return to campus. At the same time, FMD Project Management and Engineering teams began a planning and design process to continue to upgrade and improve indoor air quality on campus.
According to Jason Lambert, senior director of operations and infrastructure, much effort goes into planning and executing major HVAC projects while still being responsive to the building occupants and minimizing disruptions to UGA’s missions. As students, faculty and staff return to campus this fall, they will likely never know what has happened above the ceilings, behind the walls and in the mechanical rooms over the spring and summer, yet these actions are a point of pride for the FMD team.
“Each project has been selected based on feasibility, speed of implementation and the positive impact that it will have to the campus community,” Lambert said. “While we continually undertake HVAC renewal as part of the maintenance process, projects that improve ventilation, HVAC reliability and the indoor air quality on campus have taken center stage during the past 18 months and will continue to do so for the near future as we respond to current needs and work to implement strategies that will provide infrastructure resiliency for the future.”
Using funding provided by the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, the state of Georgia’s Major Repair and Rehabilitation program and other UGA resources, more than $4 million in targeted HVAC projects were completed in the past year, and more than $7 million of additional projects are planned for the coming year. Forthcoming projects include installing ultraviolet disinfection arrays for 1.3 million square feet of academic and student service space, replacing air handlers and chillers, and employing industry consultants to retro-commission and optimize existing systems. Overall, these projects will positively affect more than 2.2 million square feet of campus space.
Future efforts by FMD include collaboration with colleagues in the Office of University Architects for Facilities Planning as well as key stakeholders from schools and colleges across campus to continue refining institutional design and construction standards. Since 2012, UGA’s design standards have required that building-scale HVAC systems on campus be equipped with ultraviolet systems integral to the air handling system. Guided by industry standards and lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, this collaborative team is working to ensure that UGA remains well positioned to overcome pandemic events while also providing resilient and energy-efficient infrastructure for the future.
“The operational practices and construction projects that we are undertaking today reflect rapidly evolving industry guidance and reaffirm UGA’s commitment to foster a safe and comfortable built environment for campus,” Johnson said.
For more information about FMD’s HVAC program and for an interactive HVAC improvement map, please visit https://www.fmd.uga.edu/buildinghvac/.