University of Utah President David W. Pershing and College of Engineering Dean Richard B. Brown made sure the newly-renovated Rio Tinto Kennecott Mechanical Engineering Building got off to a fresh start with a dedication ceremony Friday, Oct. 9.

Pershing and Brown expressed their gratitude to Rio Tinto Kennecott and alumni of the engineering college for their support of the four-year construction project, which turned the 62-year-old building at 1495 E. 100 South into one of the safest and most sustainable structures on the U campus. Also present at the ceremony were U Mechanical Engineering Department Chairman Tim Ameel and Nigel Steward, managing director for Rio Tinto Kennecott.

“As I walked through the new Rio Tinto Kennecott Mechanical Engineering Building, it’s hard to even imagine its former incarnation,” Brown said during the ceremony in the building’s Sidney and Marian Green Classroom.

The $24 million renovation was completed this month and has become the new home for the college’s mechanical engineering department with nearly 60 offices, 11 student study areas, five conference rooms and 12 research labs. The project was completed using all non-state and private funds, including a lead gift from Rio Tinto Kennecott.

“They were willing to help us make the building what it is today, and we owe them a sincere thanks for everything they have done,” Pershing said of Rio Tinto Kennecott’s support.

What began as a 54,000-square-foot building built in the 1950s for Kennecott Utah Copper Corp.’s research offices has now become a 76,000-square-foot U lab space with the latest in energy-saving technology and safety features:

  • Energy-efficient elevators — The building has two KONE EcoSpace elevators, special cars that use smaller motors with less horsepower than regular hydraulic elevators. The cars also generate and store electricity every time they go down and save about 30,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year.
  • Chilled beam system — Instead of standard air conditioners, the building uses a “chilled beam system” in which cold water moves through pipes that cool the warm air. The system uses 53 percent less energy than a standard system.
  • Heating system — The building has boilers that are 95 percent efficient, much higher than standard heating systems.
  • Tighter envelope — The building has a tighter seal to prevent air from leaking out and therefore requiring less energy to heat or cool. The new areas of the building also have a “rainscreen,” a gap in the walls that prevents heat and moisture from penetrating.
  • Earthquake stabilization — The building is constructed with shear walls – thick, rigid concrete walls that can absorb more shock from an earthquake. “Building restrained braces,” special diagonal braces that are designed to absorb vibrations from an earthquake, were also installed. Finally, “micropiles” were used in the construction. These elements for the foundation also hold well under earthquakes but have a much smaller footprint so construction workers didn’t have to demolish as much of the building to install the shear walls.
  • Horizontal fire shutter — In the building’s four-story atrium is a horizontal shutter designed to close automatically in the case of a fire. When closed it prevents fire and smoke from spreading to the rest of the floors and allows the building to meet fire code without using giant circulating fans that require much more electricity.
  • Walkway — A new pedestrian walkway was constructed over North Campus Drive that connects the building to the rest of the campus to provide a safe crossing.

All told, the building will use nearly 53 percent less energy than a standard compliant building, and it is expected to receive a LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

“From where we took this building to where it is now, the swing is immense,” said Derrick Larm, the project’s chief architect. “We improved it in every way. It is definitely one of the most energy-efficient buildings on campus.”

The University of Utah’s mechanical engineering department, one of seven disciplines in the College of Engineering, has more than doubled in size in the last 15 years and is the college’s largest department.

“Together we will use this space for a first class education,” Ameel said.