The Importance of Collaboration Throughout the Troubleshooting Process

Jon Yonkers, Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber, Inc.
Bob Pomeroy, Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber, Inc.

The Grand Valley State University (GVSU) P. Douglas Kindschi Hall of Science (KHS) is a 150,000-sf building including office, classroom, and laboratory space completed in August 2015. The building offers laboratory and research space necessary for student and faculty advancement in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education. The project is seeking LEED Gold Certification.

There was an increased degree of difficulty for the design, construction, and commissioning teams due to the greater complexity involved with the project. For laboratory buildings, this complexity arises out of the critical processes, which occur within the building and energy efficiency thresholds dictated by building codes. This complexity often leads to an uptick in operational issues at the end of construction and often continuing into the initial occupancy phase.

Despite the best efforts of design, construction, and commissioning teams for the KHS project, not all systems were operating perfectly at the time of building turnover. In the first year of operation, a number of unexpected operational issues have shown up with symptoms ranging from negative building pressure to unstable humidification control and others in between. The process to understanding the fundamental issue for some of the symptoms was difficult and can be likened to the process of peeling away layers of an onion. Seldom was the symptom the fundamental issue and seldom was one party, alone, able to completely diagnose the problem and provide an effective solution. A team effort was required from all parties to share information clearly providing feedback of all details or clues leading to the ultimate solution.

Many feedback loops were utilized in the troubleshooting process for the KHS project including direct communication between installing contractor and engineer, trend log graphs provided by controls contractor, onsite meetings with all team members, and occasionally direct onsite measurement and verification by the design engineer.

The process of evaluating feedback in a logical and coherent manner to determine a proper course of action is often performed by the commissioning agent or party with in-depth knowledge of both good design and good installation practices. For the KHS project, both the third party commissioning agent and mechanical engineer fit this description, which helped foster a more collaborative approach to troubleshooting and a more efficient pathway to solutions.

Encountering unexpected operational issues with laboratory buildings should not come as a surprise, however; with an organized approach and clear feedback loops, solutions can be implemented and proper functionality achieved without lengthy delays.

Learning Objectives

  • Following a description of mechanical systems in the new facility, participants will understand the degree of difficulty encountered with laboratory buildings, some of the unique challenges design and construction teams must overcome, and how these challenges influence future laboratory mechanical system design.
  • Through an evaluation of operational issues encountered on the project building, participants will understand the difficulty of identifying the underlying causes of the issues and ultimately see the importance of obtaining clear and complete feedback in the troubleshooting process.
  • Following a presentation of the various feedback loops utilized on the project, participants will be able to identify which methods were most beneficial in supporting the troubleshooting effort—ultimately leading to solutions to issues.
  • Through discussion of past project issues and paths to resolution, participants will be able to identify which team members are typically best suited to lead the troubleshooting process—ensuring efficient feedback and recommendations are delivered to the responsible party(s).


Jon Yonkers, PE, LEED AP, is an Associate/Senior Mechanical Engineer at Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber, Inc. He has 17 years of experience with HVAC systems commissioning and design for a variety of projects; most recently he was the Lead Mechanical Engineer for the GVSU P. Douglas Kindschi Hall of Science. His notable systems commissioning projects include MSU Bio-Engineering Laboratory; Van Andel Institute Vivarium; and Georgia Institute of Technology Marcus Nanotechnology Building.

Bob Pomeroy, AIA is an Associate/Senior Architect with Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber, Inc. Bob was the Design Architect for the GVSU P. Douglas Kindschi Hall of Science, a new $55 million, 4-story, 150,000-sf science laboratory, classroom, and office building. He performs architectural programming, design, contract documents, and construction administration for higher education, healthcare, governmental, office, commercial, and recreational projects.


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