The Jesuit Spirituality Center at St. Charles College (JSC), Grand Coteau, Louisiana, is housed in a building dating back to 1909. Originally a school, the brick and wood frame structure now houses a novitiate (Jesuit training center), a spirituality center for retreats and The Pavilion – a 22-bed assisted living facility. A recent renovation completely overhauled the HVAC, electrical, plumbing and fire safety systems. Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) zoning technology from Mitsubishi Electric US, Inc. Cooling & Heating Division (Mitsubishi Electric) was a big part of that project, offering cost savings and discreet and comfortable operation.
Challenge: Renovating a century-old building as cost-effectively as possible.
Larry Blanchette, PE, LEED® AP, president, Associated Design Group, Inc., Lafayette, Louisiana served as the engineer on the project. Blanchette said the original plans for JSC’s new HVAC system involved a chilled water and hot water system. While VRF was mentioned early on, “we thought it was more expensive than a chilled water and hot water system, so we proceeded with the latter. For comparison purposes, though, we then priced VRF. We found that VRF worked better, giving [JSC] a bit of a cost savings.”
The cost savings related to what Blanchette described as the building’s “spread-out floor plan.” The building’s ample size, comparable to a city block, “limited the amount of ductwork we could run. And this is an old wooden structure. There were large beams hidden by finishes that we found when we tore out ceilings to look into potential piping and duct runs. We saw there were lots of blocks to necessary paths, which would have been hard to navigate with ductwork. We were able to work much better with VRF’s small refrigerant pipe size.”
VRF also offered the immense advantage of zoning technology. Reverend James P. Bradley, S.J., rector and president, St. Charles College, said, “The Pavilion houses elderly people, who are much more sensitive to changes in temperature. We have 22 people living here. That’s 22 different sets of needs. And it can change from morning to night.” With VRF, said St. Charles College’s Maintenance Manager Olan Thibodeaux, “the amazing part is that you can have such differences. One man here has arthritis; he wants it 78 degrees all the time. The man next to him is always hot; he wants it 68 degrees. I couldn’t do that with a traditional system.”
Blanchette recommended going with Mitsubishi Electric VRF: “We felt it had superior manufacturer quality compared to the rest of the market. We also felt we had a good local setup. The local support was intimately involved with controls commissioning, setup, everything.”
Installation was “a pleasant experience. The job was very smooth,” said Blanchette.
Solution: VRF zoning technology from Mitsubishi Electric saved the facility money on installation, reduces operation costs and provides a comfortable, healthy environment.
From JSC’s perspective, post-installation has been pleasant, as well, due in part to the advanced controls system. Thibodeaux said, “We operate the system through a computer, making it much easier to watch what’s going on. I watch it from my home. That’s quite convenient.” Bradley added that the controls system means “better control over our costs. Everyone wants a different temperature in communal spaces like the chapel, nurse’s station, hallways and bathrooms. We centrally control those, and we’ve managed to stay under what we projected it would all cost.”
Bradley also noted the improved air quality: “This [Louisiana] climate is perpetually high in humidity. You always have to be on guard against mold. The system takes out the humidity, though. A couple men had asthma and allergy problems but they’ve gone away.”
It’s amazing to think that all of this progress is happening, as Bradley said, “in a building from a time before air conditioning.”