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Exceeding National Benchmarks: University of North Dakota Gorecki Alumni Center Post-Occupancy Evaluation

After more than 130 years of higher education, the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks had more than a few alumni interested in plans for a future alumni center − and lots of ideas.

The common project goal for Obernel, JLG Architects, and our project partners was to understand all of those ideas while meeting the high expectations and standards for developing a campus and community landmark, a multi-use resource, and a legacy for alumni donors and graduates. The expectations were formidable. The project took 10 years to complete, and in that time we worked with three different university presidents.

Five years after project completion, our 2020 post-occupancy evaluation reveals exactly how much the Gorecki Alumni Center exceeds national benchmarks. More importantly, it demonstrates how operational efficiency and flexibility deliver user satisfaction.

This also is a testament to the hard work, dedication, and contributions of campus leaders and alumni. The project design underwent many changes on the road to completion. It involved a major capital campaign, and it pursued the lofty goal of LEED Platinum certification.

As the first impression for potential UND students on tour as well as the home to admissions, alumni and administrative staff and multiple campus functions and events – including campus art installations and weddings – the Gorecki Alumni Center sustains the heart of hospitality. Behind its walls is the design and infrastructure for sustainable efficiency and comfort.

In this article, we provide an overview of occupant perceptions about their comfort, productivity, and overall satisfaction. The results are significant to confirm design, engineering, and construction success. The final occupants responding to our survey were not involved in the design process for their individual or group workspaces.

Here is their experience.

Post-Occupancy Results

Let’s begin with the end in mind. The following diagram shows the overall occupant satisfaction five years after completion. It exceeds national benchmarks in all areas.

The only area that ranked a bit closer to the national benchmark, while still exceeding it, is thermal comfort. However, our evaluation analysis discovered remedies to improve comfort that do not detract from original design or engineering choices.

Thermal Comfort

Post-Occupancy Question: How satisfied are you with the temperature of your workspace?

Post-Occupancy Question: Overall, does your thermal comfort in your workspace enhance or interfere with your ability to get your job done?

Early in the design phase, we anticipated some challenges with thermal comfort due to the cold climate and large amount of glass incorporated into the project design for daylighting as well as aesthetics. However, to counteract significant heating or cooling issues throughout the year, we selected materials and implemented design techniques and energy-efficient infrastructure.

• High-performing glass with double-paned thermal characteristics, with higher shading co-efficiencies on the south and west sides of the building
• High thermal R-factor glass accounts for future changes to the baseline code
• Solar shading built into the aesthetic design provides passive summer shading while allowing winter afternoon sun to come through
• 8% of the building’s energy comes from solar, installed on the roof
• Geothermal wells and infrastructure provide natural heating and cooling

Our post-occupancy evaluation revealed that occupant thermal discomfort showed up most significantly during mornings and Mondays.

Ultimately, we determined that staff programming for the heating and cooling system could be improved. For example, facilities staff can adjust temperature controls for expected occupants earlier in the morning prior to business hours. This will improve thermal comfort going forward.

OUTCOME: The post-occupancy evaluation allowed our team to collaborate with the campus facilities team on temperature management. This will improve thermal comfort while optimizing the heating and cooling systems, as intended, to support energy efficiency.

Workspace Satisfaction

Another aspect of the thermal comfort evaluation revealed that certain offices originally designed for single occupancy are being used by two or even more people per office. Therefore, usage affects occupant perceptions of thermal comfort (and noise between offices that we’ll address later in the article). Even so, 49% of occupants are satisfied with the office temperatures, and 56% do not perceive thermal comfort as an interference with their work.

Results on overall satisfaction of the workspace revealed that only 2% of occupants believe that the office layout interferes with their jobs. In fact, 53% of occupants believe that it enhances (or significantly enhances) their job performance.

Post-Occupancy Question: Overall, does the office layout enhance or interfere with your ability to get your job done?

Despite the current occupants not being involved in project design, 95% of them are satisfied with the ease of coworker interaction, and 96% are satisfied with individual workspaces and storage.

Post-Occupancy Question: How satisfied are you with the following?

All-glass office fronts designed to support daylighting and outdoor views are also not seen as a major deterrent to work, with only 15% of occupants identifying visual privacy or distraction as a concern and only 18% expressing overall dissatisfaction.

OUTCOME: The post-occupancy evaluation allowed our team to communicate with campus staff about overall user satisfaction with their workspaces in the alumni center, demonstrating that the majority are satisfied with layouts, storage, privacy, and the ability to collaborate.

Air Quality

The Gorecki Alumni Center is equipped with air exchangers to manage CO2 levels continuously throughout the building — keeping air quality fresh and occupants awake and productive. In addition, significant infrared heat testing and pressure testing identified potential areas for passive air and energy loss, which were remedied with additional spray foam insulation prior to project completion.
Only 10% of occupants expressed any dissatisfaction with air quality. When asked to identify potential contributors to the problem, they mainly identified odors from food and bathroom drains.

Post-Occupancy Question: If there is an odor problem, which of the following contribute to the problem?

OUTCOME: Air quality exceeds national benchmarks, and we were able to remedy most occupant dissatisfaction with odors by advising the facilities team on bathroom drain maintenance: regularly cleaning the traps and flushing them with hot water. This is now part of their maintenance checklist.

Lighting & Acoustics

Post-Occupancy Question: How satisfied are you with the following?

Questions about lighting revealed that occupants are satisfied with the amount of daylight available to their workspaces and overall control of daylight and electric lighting. With floor-to-ceiling glass throughout much of the building, the Gorecki Alumni Center is attractive to visitors day and night. It also offers most occupants a view from their workspaces. The natural daylighting enhances occupants’ wellbeing in all seasons while conserving electricity.

Total energy use by the facility over the past five years is 40% less than national averages for this climate zone nationwide.

Post-Occupancy Question: How satisfied are you with the following?

While 12% of occupants noted dissatisfaction with noise levels in their workspaces and 37% expressed dissatisfaction with sound privacy, we determined that the use of single-occupancy offices by more than one person may be contributing to higher noise levels. When asked how much acoustic quality enhances or interferes with productivity, the majority of occupants do not consider it a deterrent and 28% believe that it enhances their jobs.

Post-Occupancy Question: Overall, does the acoustics quality in your workspace enhance or interfere with your ability to get your job done?

OUTCOME: Glass-front offices and daylighting enhance rather than detract from productivity. We also suggested the introduction of white noise to improve occupant focus and privacy during heavier traffic days in workspaces.

Meeting Spaces

Post-Occupancy Question: How satisfied are you with the building overall?

Overall satisfaction with the meeting spaces exceeded 95%. This includes private meeting spaces for 1-2 people (97%), small meeting spaces for 3-5 people (98%) and larger meeting spaces for 6+ people (97%). These are average satisfaction ratings for both meeting space availability and functionality.

OUTCOME: In general, the meeting spaces are satisfactory even though occupancy levels are higher now than originally intended in the final approved workspace design.

Conclusions

With an 82% satisfied to very satisfied rating on the building overall, and no dissatisfaction, we are pleased to conclude that the Gorecki Alumni Center continues to serve the campus well for staff and visitors.

We will address energy efficiency in another whitepaper, but the building has already shown return on investment by using about 40% less energy than other buildings of its size. The roof contains 3,219 square feet of solar panels, and that alone is saving up to 80,000 kWh a year – enough to run 7.3 average American homes annually.

Here are some of the comments we received from the post-occupancy evaluation.

I absolutely love being able to sit near the large windows on the main floor and see what is happening outside.

It’s an exceptional facility as a front door to campus. Not only the aesthetics are stunning, but the parking is great and the history wall…pieces like that make a great first impression for our visitors and guests. Having the conference room space has been a lifesaver for us in terms of hosting events and visits. And for large events, being next to the auditorium is great as well as ease of directing visitors to campus.

This building was built with LEED in mind with sunlight and every space having the ability to have light into their space. Without a doubt, there isn’t a time an event goes on in the building and we don’t get a comment back of ‘Wow, this is the nicest building.’ The building has performed second to none in our usage of it and campus usage of it. We run…265 events a year in the building, some small, some large, and you throw the visits on top of that, it’s a well-used building without a doubt.

For consultations or questions about your upcoming project, contact Obernel.

David Vig, PE, CEM
701-371-8069
david.vig@obernel.com

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