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Older and Wiser: Reinventing an L.A. Landmark

Feb. 10, 2009
How an iconic 1970s office tower was turned into a progressive, environmentally friendly commercial property

When Brookfield Properties purchased Trizec Properties Inc. in 2006, it--along with partner The Blackstone Group--acquired 61 office properties totaling 36 million sq ft in nine U.S. markets, including the 55-story, 1.8-million-sq-ft Bank of America Plaza, one of the most recognizable commercial buildings in downtown Los Angeles.

"When we first evaluated the property, we quickly identified some essential and valuable opportunities to improve the energy efficiency and overall operation of the building," Dave Thompson, general manager of the facility, explained.

Almost immediately, Brookfield set out to improve the long-term performance of the 35-year-old building, investing several million dollars over the course of two years. The investment paid off, as the building received Energy Star certification in late 2008, with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) certification expected during the first quarter of 2009.

Energy-Management System

A major step in the overhaul of the building's mechanical systems was the installation of a new energy-management system (EMS). Utilizing efficient direct digital controls, the EMS affords the property team better regulation and monitoring of the building's HVAC-plant fans, pumps, condenser-water and chilled-water plants, and cogeneration plant. Also, it provides building tenants the ability to manually control lighting and temperature and, subsequently, their electricity costs.

While the controls provide tenants more individual control of heating, air conditioning, and ventilation, the EMS allows building operators to limit that control to prevent overuse and extreme temperature adjustments. Energy savings resulting from the EMS, which cost approximately $500,000 to install, are expected to be 3 to 5 percent of total building utility costs.

Among the challenges of the EMS retrofit, which took more than a year to complete, was that the old system was integrated with the fire-alarm system, which had to remain fully operational. That the building is operated 24 hr a day, seven days a week and houses critical equipment, such as tenants' data centers, made the upgrade even more of a challenge.

New sensors were installed at strategic points on the building's outer core to detect and measure relative humidity and solar load. Previously, outside conditions were measurable only at the top floors, which are unobstructed by shadows from other buildings. The EMS can be used to monitor the sensors and, depending on the weather, allow the engineering staff to either cool or heat the building.

A key component of the EMS are energy-curtailment tools. Building operators are able to limit energy consumption on "quiet days," such as the day prior to a major holiday. While tenant comfort is maintained and vital systems remain fully operational, certain non-vital systems, such as pools and fountains, can be shut down to conserve energy. Likewise, if tenant traffic is especially low, one or more elevators can be shut down. Even the energy used to heat water can be curtailed based on diminished building population.

With the new EMS came replacement variable-frequency drives (VFDs), which allow building operators to regulate electric-motor operation at 70-percent capacity or less, depending on need. This leads to electricity savings of up to 50 percent, based on previous 100-percent capacity usage, which often was unnecessary. The EMS affords the building staff the ability to start, stop, stagger, control, and alarm all fans, pumps, chillers, and other HVAC equipment throughout the building.

The new EMS includes state-of-the-art water treatment, which not only is more efficient and affordable, but safer, as building personnel have less direct contact with water. Remotely accessible smart controllers are interfaced with the EMS.

Cogeration Plant

Bank of America Plaza's cogeneration plant is 4 years old, but still "leading edge" by industry standards. It meets all local, state, and federal codes concerning environmental impact, and its byproducts supplement the heating and cooling of the building. Also, it produces cleaner power and helps with peak shaving. State-of-the-art emissions-control devices, meanwhile, drastically limit the amount of pollutants that escape the building. Nitrogen-oxide, volatile-organic-compound, and carbon-monoxide emissions have been reduced 90 percent, while greenhouse-gas emissions have been reduced by 1,200 tons a year. This would hold true even if the plant were operated only 10 hr a day, 250 days a year.

Upon taking over management of the building, Brookfield put great effort into better utilizing the cogeneration plant.

"We developed a computer energy model that took into consideration current gas prices, utility costs, and building consumption loads," Shane Eaton, the building's assistant chief engineer, said. "This calculated data allows us to run the plant to achieve optimum efficiency at the lowest possible operating cost."

The cogeneration plant includes four natural-gas engines and 1.3 MW of power. Every pump and motor is on a VFD for maximum efficiency. The heat generated by the engines is captured and used to power an absorption chiller that provides chilled water for building air conditioning. During winter, when air conditioning is unnecessary, heat recapture is used to produce hot water.

Previously, Bank of America Plaza received heated and chilled water from an energy-services company's dated central plant. The newer system allows the building to generate much of its own energy. Two 200-ton absorption chillers recover enough heat to produce 390 tons of cooling.

The electrical efficiency of the generators is 35 percent; the thermal heat used in the system increases this efficiency to 73 percent. Therefore, for every dollar spent on fuel, 72 cents is applied to the energy use of the system.

Asset-management System

Incorporated into Brookfield's entire Southern California portfolio (as well as properties in Denver and Houston) is a Web-based tool that owners and operators use to measure, manage, and control electricity consumption and detect areas for energy and cost savings. The engineering team is alerted by e-mail if energy-usage levels are substantially above or below normal.

Day-by-day comparison of energy use and costs.

The system allows engineers to realize--often, the next day--the cost savings their energy-curtailment measures yielded.

"Since Brookfield rolled out the energy-management tool, we quickly discovered obvious areas of energy loss in lighting and HVAC, as well as equipment-programming errors ...," Kevin Devine, director of engineering for Brookfield Properties' Southern California region, said. "Auditing our EMS operations and scheduling programs has proven valuable. Best practices in saving energy with these essential tools and the support of our EMS professionals has been contagious--regardless of plant size or sophistication."

Engineering Operations Command Center

The Engineering Operations Command Center.

Along with innovative energy-management and utility systems, Brookfield realized the need for a central command center for the engineering staff. Bank of America Plaza's chief engineer, Doug Grow, and his crew man the controls in the Engineering Operations Command Center (EOCC), which houses the energy-management, fire-and-life-safety (FLS), asset-management, lighting-control, and garage-monitoring systems, as well as all preventive-maintenance programs.

"The integration of all of the operating and information systems into one central command center has allowed the engineers to not only operate the building, central plant, and cogeneration plant more efficiently, but also accords information-sharing on a scale never before achieved," Grow said. "This shared knowledge allows the engineers to act with autonomy to resolve any problem with confidence."

Located on the 44th floor, the EOCC formerly was a supply room. The overwhelming majority of the work that went into its construction was done in-house, with several members of the building-management team coming in during off hours to complete the job swiftly and within the modest budget of $12,000.

The EOCC consists of three main areas: the system Brookfield uses to receive and respond to work orders from tenants, the EMS and the systems it controls, and the new FLS system.

Employed across Brookfield's North American office-property portfolio, the system for receiving and responding to work orders from tenants allows engineers to maintain and schedule equipment preventive maintenance electronically, send and receive e-mail, etc. All engineers are equipped with wireless handheld devices so they can acknowledge receipt of work orders if they are off site or in other areas of the building.

One wall of the EOCC is dedicated to the monitoring and control of the EMS through the use of computers and flat-panel televisions. Engineers can toggle between small and large screens so that what they are working on can be seen by the larger group. For instance, through Webcams installed in the chiller room, engineers in the EOCC can assess a situation without traveling 40-plus floors down to the basement. That way, they know what they will need to perform any maintenance or cleanup, saving time. Additionally, through an Internet connection, they can adjust the EMS from home, if necessary.

The EMS area of the EOCC includes feeds from both local and national media outlets for coverage of emergency situations or natural disasters, a Doppler radar feed from a local news station for hourly weather updates, a catalog of safety and training DVDs for the staff to watch during non-peak hours, and a whiteboard for the team to exchange messages about daily building issues and happenings.The building's new FLS system replaced the system installed when the building opened in 1974. A panel is being installed to monitor all fire-related measures in the building. It includes maps, alarm notifications, and floor cameras.

Complicating the FLS-system upgrade is the old wiring, which is not compatible with the new system and has to be replaced while the system remains online and functional. More than 10,000 devices have to be wired, installed, tested, and inspected during off hours so as not to disrupt tenant activity. All told, the fire-alarm retrofit cost approximately $2 million and has been ongoing for more than two years.

2009 and Beyond

The reinvention of the property has not stopped with the improvements to the engineering systems and equipment. The building is undergoing a multiyear project to modernize all 32 elevators with control equipment that is more energy-efficient. Additionally, a new security command center has been installed in the service level of the building. Similar to the EOCC, it will provide a central locale for all security-related systems and activities.

Matthew Cherry is corporate communications manager for Brookfield Properties (www.brookfieldproperties.com), one of North America's largest commercial-real-estate companies. Brookfield Properties has interests in 108 properties totaling 74 million sq ft, including World Financial Center in Manhattan, Brookfield Place in Toronto, Bank of America Plaza in Los Angeles, and Bankers Hall in Calgary, as well as interests in more than 16 million sq ft of high-quality, centrally located development and redevelopment properties in major markets.