University of Texas at Austin

When it comes to delivering long-term value, sometimes it pays to spend more up front.

As DPR has been able to demonstrate on a current project for the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, choosing a more energy efficient system or durable material—although it may be more costly—for a project can pay off in a big way over the life cycle of a building. While that concept is universally understood by building operations managers, it is sometimes at odds with many contractors and owners focused on keeping upfront construction costs down.

Team Players

Project: Data Center

Client: University of Texas at Austin

Architect: PageSoutherlandPage/ Sunland Group

The design/build team of DPR and PageSoutherlandPage/Sunland Group took just such a “big picture” approach during preconstruction on a $23 million project now underway for UT. Focused on finding the best long-term value and approach for the conversion of a former Central Receiving Building into a 27,000-sq.-ft. data center, the team undertook an extensive life-cycle analysis on the facility. They looked at what systems would deliver the greatest overall savings from an operational standpoint.

The team found that completely revamping the cooling system from the originally planned roof top DX CRAC units to water-cooled chillers with two cooling tower cells would add about $1.2 million in initial costs. However, ultimately, it would save the client more than $60 million in total cumulative plant costs over the building’s 12 year life cycle.

“The payback would begin in less than three years thanks to substantial energy savings,” said DPR’s Project Executive Jason Choyce. His presentation to a group of higher education facility executives, outlining the dramatic impact an alternative cooling system could have to the building’s life cycle costs, generated a high degree of interest and enthusiasm. It also sold UT on the value of that option, as well as the value of having a design and construction team willing to go beyond the basic requirements on a project to search for the best long-term solutions for its clients.

The UT data center project entails the complete reconstruction of the two-story building, including all exterior skin finishes, windows and roofing. The facility will include approximately 9,400 sq. ft. of 2-ft., raised-floor white space, along with some 17,000 sq. ft. of support, office and MEP equipment space.

The project faces myriad challenges, ranging from adjusting for new loading requirements to a tight construction schedule among other things. Despite these and many other hurdles, the project is slated to complete on its original schedule of April 2010.