university of chicago, keller center/harris school

GBA’s commissioning services provided crucial information to improve functionality in this extensive renovation project.

University of Chicago Keller Center momumental interior stair.

The Objective

The five-story, 125,000-square-foot Keller Center has filled several functions at the University of Chicago over its lifetime, and was most recently a graduate residence facility before its transformation to house the Harris School of Public Policy. The design preserves key features of the landmarked concrete building while providing new classrooms, team rooms, faculty offices, and a central four-level atrium. A new rooftop Executive Education Suite accommodates training for alumni and executive-level professionals.

The Response

Design-phase commissioning included an extensive document review process, yielding more than 180 items for additional clarification and correction. More than 460 comments were made during the field observations in the construction phase, including several that were critical to the ultimate success of the project. Notable issues uncovered and addressed through commissioning included addition and coordination of various floor drains; incorrect control valve installations; lack of an isolation valve for hot water coil piping on an air-handling unit and a VAV terminal reheat unit; missing access doors for airflow stations; incorrect handling of steam condensate from a domestic water heater; and missing vibration isolators on pipe hangers for hot water pumps in the mechanical room, causing noise issues for the facility staff.

Of particular importance was the Cx team’s observation that neither the original design nor the redesign included humidification, putting the facility’s extensive ash millwork and decorative wood finishes at risk. The architect and design engineer agreed that adding humidifiers would be prudent, and ultimately provided for humidifiers in the supply ductwork for two AHUs. Functional performance testing identified several other issues, particularly involving temperature controls and alarm status of various pieces of equipment. In addition, AHU mixed-air temperature sensors were discovered to have been installed incorrectly. These issues were addressed through the commissioning process, supporting a more efficient and functional facility.

The university’s sustainability targets were affirmed by a successful LEED Platinum certification process, as well as Living Building Challenge Petal Certification in the Materials Petal. Multiple AIA Chicago awards were bestowed; the project also received the 2019 AIA COTE Top Ten Award.

Interior photos by Jacob Hand courtesy of UC Harris School of Public Policy

Exterior photo by Farr Associates courtesy of UC Harris School of Public Policy

Numerous installation and controls issues identified through commissioning

Identified lack of humidification needed to preserve extensive millwork and decorative wood; humidifiers added

LEED Platinum

Living Building Challenge Petal Certification: Materials Petal

University of Chicago Keller Center exterior.
Students on interior stairs, Keller Center, University of Chicago