Austin Utilities opens new energy efficient facility

Austin Utilities is a community-owned, not-for-profit electric, water, and natural gas utility, serving more than 12,000 customers within a community of over 23,000 people in Austin, MN. The utility officially opened its new, energy-efficient 105,000 sq. ft. Service and Operation Center at the end of July. We interviewed General Manager Mark Nibaur to learn more.

Tell us a little bit about the new building.

Mark Nibaur: Mark Nibaur The building allowed Austin Utilities to consolidate departments operating out of seven different buildings and three properties. The new facility has all operations from customer service, administrative, gas/water/electric construction, meter shops and labs for all three utilities, warehouse, vehicle storage and fleet repair. The new building would be labeled as a “Typical Midwest Utility and Public Works” style. The facility incorporates an overhang as a passive solar sunshade—the original window locations was based on Venetian system to bring light into rooms—and the clerestory with high windows was added to bring in light to a central area. This is a style that has been used for at least 75 years and was used by Frank Lloyd Wright extensively.

Several other features of the building also follow Wright’s theory of “form follows function”. Curved walls were designed to relieve boredom of square corners, to add some interest to the spaces, and to provide spaces for impromptu conferences. We were seeking to capture as much daylight as possible, hence corridor glazing was added to light the corridors and pull light into the inner offices from outer offices, as well as drawing light from a clerestory area.

A very welcoming entrance
A very welcoming entrance.

What type of energy efficiency or renewable energy systems are included?

Mark Nibaur: The building features a geothermal heating and cooling system. The system has 15 horizon wells and is controlled by an advance management system. LED lighting is used throughout the building and outside to enhance and provide security to the overall facilities. The lighting is dimmable in most locations and is controlled with occupancy sensors. The building takes advantage of natural lighting by utilizing a clerestory design, sky lights, sky light tubing and glass garage doors. A special window treatment in our large meeting room is tint-on-demand to maximize or minimize sunlight penetration. The facility incorporates a solar wall, utilizing passive heat to assist in a pre-heat to our vehicle garage space. We will be installing a 4kw photovoltaic system in the near future.

Vehicle garage space with passive solar heating and LED lighting
Vehicle garage space with passive solar heating and LED lighting.

Any surprises (good or bad) about the project you can share? Any advice to give others looking at a similar project?

Mark Nibaur: We used a Construction Manager model to construct our building. The model allowed the contractor and architect to work through the construction document phase to create a check and balance method for optimum efficiencies. I believe the working partnership we had between construction manager, architect, and owner was crucial for the project to meet budget and timeline expectations. It was truly a team effort. We also worked hard to inform and educate our community on the utility needs and working conditions. This was helpful to gain support through the whole process of planning, designing, construction, and moving into the new facility.

Click here to learn more on the Austin Utilities website >>

Building during construction
Building during construction.

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