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The future was supposed to be brighter for the Modesto (Calif.) Medical Center. When the 670,000-square-foot complex opened in 2008, it was intended to be a green laboratory for future green-building projects for Kaiser Permanente, the health care organization with more than 600 medical facilities.
So far, the center’s medical facilities and full-service hospital have not quite lived up to expectations.
“One of the most valuable lessons we have learned over the past six years is that just because you are handed over a beautiful, brand-new building, don’t assume that everything is going to run as designed,” says Ed Gonzales, the medical center’s chief engineer. “My team and I have discovered that new isn’t perfect, and that once you figure out how to work out all the bugs, there are always more creeping around.”
Many of the medical center’s issues relate to the ongoing challenge facing most maintenance and engineering managers to push the energy efficiency of institutional and commercial facilities.
"We’ve had issues regarding maintaining efficiency with many of our systems,” Gonzales says. “Energy conservation is now a top priority locally and at a regional level. We’ve discovered that from the original build, there were many systems that were value engineered, which means two things. One, sometimes things look good on paper when in reality, it’s the end user that has to find ways to keep a system running. Two, saving money at the beginning will always cost you more in the end.”
When the medical center opened, it was the organization’s most environmentally responsible facility, boasting a range of energy- and water-saving materials, low-emitting interior products, and design elements aimed at improving the health and well-being of patients and staff.
“It’s really difficult to pinpoint one system that has been the most challenging,” Gonzales says. “However, if I had to choose one, I would have to say maintaining proper humidity levels in our operating rooms. When this building was designed, the designers failed to take into consideration that this style building works great in the San Francisco bay area. But when you take the same template building and place it right in the middle of the Central Valley, where the temperatures can reach upwards of 115-120 (degrees) in the summer, it can be very difficult to maintain the humidity levels.
“One of the reasons is that all of our air handling units are 100 percent outside air. We as a facility team have to get very creative with our building automation system in order to maintain the state-mandated humidity levels.”
Bumps in the Road to Sustainability: One Hospital's Story