As one of the Class-A office towers dotting the scenic Seattle skyline, the U.S. Bank Centre has a quality reputation to uphold in order to attract and keep its high-level tenant base. Thanks to the building’s in-house engineering team, that level of quality comes from the inside out. The building runs with amazing efficiency, and staff engineers, employed by the facility’s owner, Bentall Capital, do most of the work, including routine preventive maintenance, scheduled upgrades, and tenant work orders. They contract some specialty jobs out, but for most tasks, they simply roll up their sleeves and get to work.
The engineering team doesn’t mind expending more than a little elbow grease in order to keep budgets down and the building in top condition. In the past three years, the crew has saved more than $261,000 by bringing work in-house, including $136,000 for creating their own building automation graphics and more than $18,000 on repainting the central plant internally rather than hiring the job out to a contractor.
“What this crew accomplishes without contracting the work out is amazing,” says Assistant Chief Engineer Darrin Rinker, who has been working in the building for the past three years. “We have proven that this kind of work can be done in-house and can be done well.”
Smooth Engineering in a High-Profile Building
A job well done is important in a high-profile, Class-A structure such as the U.S. Bank Centre. This mixed-use building at 1420 Fifth Avenue is strategically located in the heart of Seattle’s central business district, adjacent to the city’s retail core and financial center.
Completed in 1989, the 1 million-square-foot high-rise is one of the more notable silhouettes along the Seattle skyline. Designed by Callison Architecture Inc., this building reflects both historical and contemporary elements of surrounding buildings in Seattle’s downtown office and retail core. It features a three-story retail atrium and a 41-story office tower that offers scenic views. It houses about 60 tenants, including U.S. Bancorp, Callison Architecture, Lane Powell Spears Lubersky, Dorsey & Whitney, FAO Schwarz, and Barney’s New York. It also boasts a seven-floor underground garage with parking for 1,019 vehicles. The parking lot staff is contracted out.
For the entire building, Rinker says the staff performs roughly 610 preventive maintenance jobs a year, some quarterly, others annually. These jobs range from checking belts and filters on 52 air-handlers between the central plant and the roof to basic equipment tune-ups and mechanical room upgrades. Work orders pour in from tenants too, usually between 200 and 300 per month, according to Rinker. “Almost everything with the exception of chillers and tenant improvement work is done in-house,” he says. Bentall contracts with Trane to provide chiller maintenance. The building has 2,300 tons of chilled water capacity among its 1,250-, 700-, and 350-ton chillers.
Looking Good From the Inside Out
While it’s a given that the building’s public areas shine, a quick trip into the depths of the building’s inner workings shows that the engineering staff uses the same philosophy for their own workspace. The central plant, fire pump room, and general shop areas gleam under fresh, glossy coats of paint. Floors shine and are scratch-free. Polished chrome glistens. And everything is labeled, from parts and equipment to supply drawers and cabinets. It is organization and efficiency at its best.
Chief Engineer Ron Parsons explains, “Our goal was to make it so that any Bentall engineer could come in and know how this building operates.” That, and the cleanliness really makes a statement about the team’s work ethic. Parsons, who has worked for Bentall for nearly 12 years, joined the U.S. Bank Centre staff in March. He credits his engineering team for putting the building’s internal areas into shape and keeping them that way.
“We started taking a hard look at the appearance of the central plant two years ago and decided to come up with a plan,” Rinker says, adding that when he bid out the painting job, he felt the estimate was more than they needed to spend. Rinker and his team decided to spend $2,000 for the paint and supplies and perform the work in-house.
The floors in the central plant were painted with hard-shell enamel, then colored plastic chips were embedded while the paint was still wet. The floor required 25 gallons of paint and chip mixture. Rinker purchased the chips in a 55-pound box from an Arizona company, Chips Unlimited, and mixed them with enamel he had on hand. “We did it completely in-house,” he says. “No work orders suffered. No preventive maintenance suffered. We still maintained our focus on servicing our tenants.”
Rising to More Visible Heights
Parsons, Rinker, and their team have moved beyond the central plant, shop, and fire pump room to bigger, more visible projects, saving even more maintenance dollars and time by performing formerly contracted work in-house. U.S. Bank Centre has 22 standard elevators. All have brass-finished doors. Occasionally through use, the brass skin will delaminate from the elevator door. In the past, an elevator contractor would come in, pull the door, and send it to another contractor who would re-skin the door. The entire process would sometimes take up to a week, leaving that elevator out of service. The cost was $1,700 per door.
Now, the engineering crew preps the door and does a complete re-skin in a one-day turnaround: $2 in glue and one guy’s labor of roughly three hours, Rinker says. They now do between eight and 10 doors each year. “We’re doing the same thing the contract vendor did,” he explains. “We pull off the skin and sand down the existing glue then reattach the brass. It’s ready for our elevator contractor to put back in service the next morning.”
Additionally, crew members have become architectural lighting experts. One of the main architectural features of the building is a series of four entryway rotundas. These entries have architectural lighting fixtures that hang 70 feet above the entries. Over time, the original fixtures have failed and had to be decommissioned. Rinker researched replacement lighting and got bids to install new fixtures. The bids came back in excess of $20,000. Rinker and his crew decided to do the job in-house. They installed 32 new power-saving fluorescent fixtures for just over $4,000.
Detailed HVAC Graphics Pay Off
The engineering department also saved about $136,000 creating its own graphics for the building automation system. The department uses L-View Pro, a simple drawing program similar to Paintshop, to create the graphic overlays for their HVAC program, Trane Tracer Summit. Trane provided them with a basic system that included all of the building’s HVAC information. Rinker and his staff then built their own graphics floor-by-floor.
“We had our floorplates copied in CAD form, but as far as where the walls fall, we literally walked the space and then drew every single office in the building on every floor,” he says, adding that it isn’t to scale but accurately represents the HVAC layout for the entire U.S. Bank Centre. The engineers can access the HVAC automation system and control it from the shop computer or a laptop from the road. One benefit is that there is no need to make visits to every floor to adjust temperature settings. The tenants have these floor plans and they are able to specifically identify the zone with the hot/cold problem. The entire process saves time, allowing the building engineers to respond to tenants quicker.
They have also added hyperlinks to the technical data in Microsoft Excel or Word documents on “difficult” pieces of equipment in the system. The Bentall engineers act as the first response. If a problem occurs in the middle of the night, they simply can click on a hyperlink and get necessary tech data, as well as the emergency contact for the particular tenant whose space has the problem. All tenants with a supplemental cooling unit are required to have their own service contractor as part of the leasing agreement. However, Bentall engineers are usually the first to respond when a problem arises.
The engineers also use these graphics for computerized key records. “The graphics are coming in handy for key control,” Rinker says. “Every tenant door is noted. You can easily tell what keyway is in what door. If you’re just looking at a spreadsheet, it doesn’t make nearly as much sense.” Tenants who visit the shop are in awe of how it operates, Rinker and Parsons say.
“We’re a Class-A building, and we’re intent on holding that status.”
Robin Suttell, based in Cleveland, is contributing editor at Buildings magazine.