The Rookery: Evolving Standards of Architecture in Chicago

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March 23, 2017

By Matt Baker of "Sustainable Chicago"

It’s tempting to assume that a landmarked building like the Rookery has been preserved in architectural amber. But the world-renowned structure isn’t exactly the one that Daniel Burnham and John Root designed in the 1880s. After the turn of the century, Frank Lloyd Wright famously applied a gilded eggshell cladding to the lobby. In the 1930s, William Drummond, formerly a Wright protégé, added Art Deco elements, including bronze elevators etched with birds matching the building’s moniker. The twelfth story was largely rebuilt in the 1990s when Burnham & Root’s original office was restored.

The latest changes to the building have been subtler. Like many other historic office buildings in the central business district, the Rookery has been busy for the last several years implementing sustainable strategies that will allow it to stay relevant for the next century. One early measure was to take part in ComEd’s retro-commissioning program. This project, which evaluates building systems to identify opportunities for reduced energy consumption, should be familiar to most building owners and operators as it is free to qualifying buildings and results in an average of 5% reduction in baseline peak demand.

As a result of the retro-commissioning, the Rookery changed its economizer system to include enthalpy controls. “We initially had the standard free cooling, where—when the weather permitted—we’d bring in outside air to save on mechanical cooling costs,” said Shawn Freeman, Able Service’s Chief Engineer of the Rookery. Bringing in cooler outside air can be counterproductive if that air is too humid. With the installation of humidification sensors throughout the building, the Rookery can now track the best time to use outside air versus mechanical cooling, “Or, at some points, running the two at the same time which was very foreign to an engineer like myself,” Freeman said. “The data from our verification process assured me, handily, that this system works.”

The Rookery was also an early volunteer in the Retrofit Chicago Energy Challenge, a program that promotes energy efficiency leadership among the city’s building stock. “We expected them to tell us the same things as other energy efficiency companies who have come through with cookie cutter ideas” Freeman said. However, after implementing large-scale measures in response to the retro-commission feedback, the Rookery’s engineering team was able to find small but still very profitable measures after taking part in Retrofit Chicago. For example, an increase in outside air intake as part of the cooling load created pressure issues that resulted in some negative losses in the exhausting system. By finding inefficiencies and identifying fixes that ran the gamut from high capital to low or no cost, the Rookery was able to budget in energy efficient retrofits.

Retrofit Chicago issues a number of awards to further encourage its membership. Last year, the Rookery was inducted into the Mayor’s Leadership Circle. This award is given to facility teams that have reached or exceeded the 20% energy reduction target; the Rookery hit 24%, the equivalent of 1.4 million kWh saved annually. Freemen himself had previously won the Most Valuable Engineer in 2014, which recognizes individuals who have achieved significant energy savings at his or her facility. More than anything else, a standardized and streamlined energy management operation has been the key to updating the Rookery’s systems. “These processes and procedures that Shawn put together are very common throughout all of Able Engineering’s buildings and it makes it easy to take a building through a process like LEED because a lot of the hard work in documenting procedures is already done,” said Josh Schubert, Director of Energy Engineering at Goby.

Chicago-based Goby was founded as an energy management consulting firm, but has been moving into the technology sector. Their building data management platform, SeaSuite, is used by properties like the Rookery to capture, track and report on building- and portfolio-wide sustainability data.

The Rookery was certified LEED Gold in 2014, but is currently in the midst of a recertification process. “SeaSuite is an ongoing measure that allows us to provide data for things like water usage and energy consumption, which will then be used in the verification process for our LEED certification,” said Freeman, who hopes that the Rookery can attain LEED Platinum. “I see it as achievable with the right implementation.”

“A lot of the time, working with tenants can be a difficult part of getting LEED certification, but the John Buck Company implemented all the measures in a timely manner,” said Schubert. Since taking over management duties at the Rookery in 2009, the John Buck Company have spearheaded a number of sustainable actions, such as tenant surveys, electronics recycling, more efficient restroom fixtures, a bike room and lighting upgrades. “The John Buck Company really ushered through this process, with support of the ownership, to really embrace Goby’s technology and consulting service to make the project happen,” Schubert said.

“But the LEED certification is certainly not the only certification we work on,” Schubert said. “We’ve been tracking the Rookery’s Energy Star rating for years. With a lot of the work that they did prior to engaging on the LEED project, they raised their score by 20 points. It’s a phenomenal achievement.”

Able Services has its own controlled set of routines. Their operational measures schedule a variety of tasks, from payroll procedures to verifying infrared testing. “Everything is detailed to make it easy for us to focus on things that provide gains for the building,” Freeman said. The Rookery’s engineering crew set up a program to disable baseboard heat based on ambient temperature and occupancy, calibrated as part of preventative maintenance. This measure alone allows the Rookery to capture savings approaching those of the air cooling overhaul. “The electric heat in a building can be difficult to achieve substantial savings,” said Freeman. “But we are able to save quite a bit, just using elbow grease and consistent verification.”

Looking forward, the building will continue to implement new measures, such as planned upgrades to the pneumatic system and compressors. “Your sustainable measures don’t just stop when you get your LEED certification,” Schubert said. “It’s three years later, and the building has had a process of continuous improvement. That speaks well to the John Buck Company and the ownership’s commitment to embrace sustainability and utilize Able Engineering’s tools and Goby’s technology to get to where they need to be.”