Every year, ACEC Nebraska recognizes exceptional engineering projects across the country. During Engineers Week this year, the organization announced the 2022 Engineering Excellence Awards, including Farris Engineering’s Honor Award and Category Winner for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Dinsdale Family Learning Commons project. Read below how our dedicated team designed the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection and technology systems for this unique library renovation.

A Unique Approach

The purpose of a traditional library on a college campus has changed greatly. It is no longer a place to store volumes of books where students go and hide to get away. Instead, it is an interactive environment where students gather to learn in a cooperative, supporting environment.

To support this renovation, technology was key to allow for this interactive environment. Our team worked with the audio-visual consultant to understand the complexity and coordination needed to supply, populate, and operate the many interactive displays in this renovation. Our skilled team of experts and registered communication distribution designers not only worked with the nuances of laying out these systems inside the building but also worked to extend networks outside the building, creating a common area where students can gather not only in the building but outside and still be connected.

Future Value

Rather than developing a showcase facility through a greenfield new construction project, the design team was able to show how a good solid structure that was built almost 60 years ago could be given new life and completely transformed to a new learning environment, while still maintaining the original, healthy building structure. The existing mechanical and electrical systems were not energy efficient and past their useful life, and the interior needed to be completely renovated to transform from a place of volume storage and quiet study to an interactive student gathering space. Working together through the design process highlighted how the modeling and design of the internal systems can do more than renovate a space but truly bring a building to life.

Sustainable Design

Being built in the 1960s, energy consumption was not a focus in the original construction of the library. However, with current energy codes mandating it and a building with an entirely glass façade, a sustainable design approach was a must for the design team as they worked through this project. First, the team worked to model the building and compare six different glazing systems along with a roof overhang. Eventually they landed on a system of low-E glass along with fritted glazing to reduce heat loss, reflecting it back into the building and limit heat gain.

Then, the team switched to the systems that brought life to this building and designed LED lighting that not only highlighted and accented the many features of this building, but also limited power usage with daylight sensors to take advantage of the natural lighting this space experiences.

The mechanical systems used the campus central plant for its energy sources and designed optimum equipment for the most efficient transfer of that energy. Air handling units provided cooling to the space, but varied air volume and reheat needs to the space needs with variable speed drives on the fans and on the hot water pumps. To prevent the system from trying to heat or cool too large of a volume of outside air for ventilation based on a time-clock occupancy schedule, the team implemented Carbon Dioxide (CO2) sensors in the space to drive a demand-controlled ventilation system. This provides additional outside air only when occupancy levels are high enough to push CO2 levels above the setpoint. The air handlers were also designed with a supply air reset schedule that compared internal humidity levels to drive efficient supply air temperatures and save energy over always cooling supply air down to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.


One of the main complexities in the design was the new central stairway cutting through the structure and connecting the basement through the second level. This flow of air, through three floor levels, would have required this facility to be equipped with smoke evacuation systems. This was not desirable from the Owner’s standpoint due to the ongoing maintenance and testing of these smoke evacuation systems. To eliminate the need for the smoke evacuation system, the design team placed a second clear glazing system along the edge of the second-floor level. This way only two floor levels were communicating from a smoke removal standpoint. This solution also presented a means to return air from the first-floor level up between these two glazed areas in the library and helped blanket the outer glazing with return air and reduce the heat loss/heat gain into the second level space.

Fulfilling Owner and Client Needs

The owner and client wanted to maintain an exterior glass façade to showcase an interactive learning environment while also improving energy efficiency to meet the most current energy codes. Farris was able to work with the team on six iterations of an energy model to compare and select the best system for the new design. The entire design had a focus of energy savings, allowing the design team to truly bring this building to life and save energy over previous designs.

Additionally, the owner wanted to avoid the maintenance and testing of a smoke evacuation system. The team was able to find a solution that not only eliminated the need, but also retained the visual transparency of the space that the owner and client wanted to maintain for open, integrated learning.



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