Creating resilient and energy-efficient facilities is vital for the future of the Department of Defense. For the Army National Guard (ARNG), that means creating places where soldiers can plan, train, perform missions and provide a community-centric location in case of emergencies. The average age of most readiness centers, or armories as they’re sometimes called, is more than 50 years old. Today’s challenge is to design durable facilities for the future in a cost-effective way while also providing solutions that have lower everyday operating costs. Readiness centers need a design that supports a full-time staff or the core of the assigned National Guard units, but also must have the capacity for the entire unit to operate from the facility during training and supporting missions. They also serve as the place where families gather and receive communications when their loved ones are deployed. And in order to do all of this, a modern, high-tech, flexible and secure facility is needed.

As the ARNG’s missions have grown, the need for our soldiers to remain ready for action quickly has outpaced the building technology and infrastructure requirements that support them. Aging facilities were designed as a place for operating units to prepare for mobilization. They were not designed to maintain soldiers’ high level of readiness and response to support missions. Because, in aging facilities, it can be challenging and cost-prohibitive to provide a secure environment to perform the mission, many ARNG units are turning to new facilities.

Designing to Support ARNG Missions

Earlier this year, the new 64,500-square-foot Ben Franklin Readiness Center (RC) opened at Minnesota’s Arden Hills Army Training Site (AHATS). The RC consolidated several units of the Minnesota Army National Guard (MN ARNG) in a single facility designed to support training, perform operations and provide maximum response flexibility for performing diverse missions.

Our team dedicated our efforts to listening to what features MN ARNG would need in the facility, one that would address future operating requirements, like reducing everyday energy costs. The new facility provides a space tailored to support each mission’s unique operating environment, including collaboration areas, flexible classrooms, security, simulation training spaces and communications infrastructure in compliance with ARNG Design Guides and DoD Unified Facility Criteria, which included anti-terrorism and force protection measures.

The facility also includes features typically found in a readiness center: an assembly hall, classrooms, a learning center, storage units with vaults, and individual locker storage. Administrative areas contain a mixture of command and control spaces with private offices for each unit and large, open plan workstation areas configured for a collaborative work environment to meet the flexible mission response.

Keeping Energy Costs Low

Today’s design parameters call for meeting the Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED)’s Silver level, which focuses on energy savings calculated from a baseline model. While this is a great starting point for design, our team went a step further toward making this design remarkable. To go beyond, the project delivery team found that the average MN ARNG facility’s energy use was about $1.08 per square foot per year — and used this as a challenge to reduce the average energy cost as much as feasibly possible without affecting soldiers’ missions or training performance, while also saving future taxpayer dollars. To sweeten the challenge was the fact that the AHATS RC is located in Minnesota, one of the coldest regions in the country.

Reducing Energy Costs: A Holistic Approach

The design team looked at a systematic approach and design target to lower the Energy Usage Intensity (EUI), which is the total number of British Thermal Units (BTUs) used by the facility divided by the building’s square footage. The lower the EUI, the better.

The first thing to look at when lowering energy usage is the building’s physical orientation. In this case, the building was situated in a direction that takes full advantage of passive solar gain, maximizes sunlight exposure, avoids cold northern winds by reducing the number of building openings on that side, and takes advantage of prevailing winds for natural ventilation.

After that, the team looked at the building envelope, including the facility’s materials, insulation, doors, windows, roof construction and sealing tightness. The building was tested during construction with a pressurized system to confirm that the building met weather-tightness standards.

The next focus was improving the facility’s natural lighting with the addition of high windows that not only would provide light but also add a dimension of security to prevent direct observation of operations. Natural light and lighting fixtures were coordinated to operate with a daylighting control system, in which the high-efficiency light fixtures would be dimmed when natural light provided the required brightness.

The project also includes other energy-saving items:

  • A geothermal exchange with heat pumps, to provide a carbon fuel-free heating and cooling solution.
  • Flexible open offices and classrooms, allowing spaces within the readiness center to be configured to support changes in missions and organization. These flexible spaces also provide natural lighting by eliminating the need for light blocking walls.
  • Low-flow plumbing fixtures, reducing annual water consumption by 43 percent.
  • Roof-mounted, solar water heating panels, projected to offset 51 percent of the facility’s annual requirements for hot water.
  • Building automation and zoning features, controlling which portions of the building are conditioned during off-peak occupancy.
  • Use of building commissioning, confirming proper installation and functioning of systems and that the MN ARNG expectations would be met.

The end result? A new facility that cut the MN ARNG’s annual energy costs by 41.6 percent. The current annual energy cost of $0.52/SF meets and exceeds the MN ARNG’s goal of having an annual average below $1.08/SF.

Design and Focus to a Target EUI

Many of the energy-efficient design strategies that we used can also be applied to designing new facilities and renovating existing readiness centers. The key is to set an EUI target early on in the design process and keep the team focused on reaching that goal. Such efforts not only result in a lower EUI, but also establish a benchmark for tracking future energy-consumption trends.

If you want to look at reducing future energy costs in facilities through energy audits, commissioning or design, I’d love to talk more about how our team can help develop innovative solutions to secure your facilities and save taxpayers money. Connect with me on LinkedIn to learn more.

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Pete Karnowski is a senior project manager for Burns & McDonnell specializing in the planning, design and construction of Army National Guard facilities. Want to know more about projects we are performing?