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Rebecca Green | SBJ

A Conversation With ... Brad Palmer

Principal and Lead Engineer, Interpres Building Solutions LLC

Posted online

Let’s talk about your Midtown Carnegie Branch Library project – you guys clearly like renovations of older buildings, we’re sitting in your firehouse turned office now. Talk about some of the challenges with renovating an older facility?
From our perspective as MEP designers, we’re really worried about the air conditioning, electrical systems, plumbing systems. What we run into is space constraints, buildings that weren’t designed to have air conditioning. Now we have to figure out where to put ductwork and heating systems, ventilation. Fresh air is a big thing. The value of that wasn’t appreciated when some buildings were built. That’s a tricky thing in renovation projects. Sometimes the architect will drop a ceiling so that we can then route ductwork above. We try to get creative. In that project, we’re trying to find vertical areas that stack so we can bring fresh air down in a vertical corner and box around it. At Interpres, we like the challenge.

What does your overall project load look like in terms of the mix of new builds and renovations and industry mix?
We do a lot of educational and civic work; probably 60% or 70% of our work is public work. The rest is private development, be it multifamily or business use. We’re doing quite a bit of health care. We do a lot of brand-new, ground-up construction, also renovations and additions with a little bit of renovation going to it. We see that being pretty consistent. Quantity is strong and has been as strong as we’ve seen in a while, maybe not what it was last year.

What other projects are you working on?
We’ve been lucky to do a few things with the (Ozarks Technical Community College) Airframe and Powerplant Training Center. Another one out at the airport that we designed is the general aviation terminal; there’s an addition and renovation going on with that, and that’s under construction right now. And then the new Reed Middle School; we just finished design on that and that bid. Each of them provide a unique challenge.

Mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering industry outlooks talk about green plumbing and the move to net-zero energy buildings. The rising cost of energy might be driving some of that, but then also growing regulatory requirements. How are you seeing eco-friendly design impact your industry?
I think the regulatory piece that you mentioned is where we see it a lot. There are owners that want to have their own initiatives that they want to pursue, but there’s an energy code in place and it goes right along with the plumbing, mechanical, building codes. Those are more and more being adopted in different municipalities and that keeps getting more aggressive with every iteration that comes out. With that comes new requirements, and there’s some costs that come with that. So, that’s a challenge you have to be mindful of as we’re designing. I think the other place we have to be careful is just the complexity of the systems, because sometimes to save energy you can get into more advanced controls, and I think we see that more as we go into more aggressive energy codes. We need more control systems to dim lights and turn water heaters off. Making sure that complexity suits the building, suits the building user. Equipment efficiencies is another big thing that’s dictated by that. You just can’t go buy any old air conditioner. Those efficiencies keep going up over time, too. So, that definitely affects us and affects project costs.

Technology providers caution that anything connected to the internet, those controls perhaps, is a way in that can compromise system security. Is that impacting the way that you are setting up networks?
(Information technology) professionals that we collaborate with while we’re designing HVAC control systems, they are definitely very involved in that conversation because there might be a server and that talks to all the thermostats and all the HVAC equipment, and they want to make sure they understand the communication flow to be able to still provide remote access for their people, but do it in a secure way.

A survey from the American Council of Engineering Cos. late last year found 52% of engineering firms are turning down jobs due to lack of workforce, and three-fourths of them said that was their biggest deterrent to growing business. Are you seeing that challenge?
Yes, it is very competitive. Finding a way to tell your story where somebody wants to come and do an internship or full-time job, I think we’re all in the same boat of trying to do that. We definitely have seen that challenge and have had to manage our schedule really carefully to not overburden the people that we have here that are awesome and be able to deliver on our projects. We definitely want to have that connection with people that are in engineering school and get to know them when they’re younger and earlier on in the process and have them get to know us.

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