Pressure Increasing to Decarbonize Buildings

Sustainability and carbon reduction are quickly shifting from voluntary endeavors to mandatory ones. For building owners and managers, it will be one of the greatest driving forces influencing building compliance over the next several decades as policy makers and regulators continue to increase their focus (and demand) to achieve sustainability targets and mitigate climate change. Soon, sustainability improvements will no longer be optional, and carbon neutral targets will have to be met. In many cities and counties around the country, including New York, Washington DC, Denver, and Boston, this is already a reality. In 2021, Chicago convened a Building Decarbonization Working Group and has been following the path forged by New York for many years. It is highly likely that within the next couple years Chicago will have a similar Decarbonization ordinance and, therefore, it is critical that owners are proactive to avoid potential fees and/or reduced property value.

Construction of new sustainable buildings is relatively common and straightforward. However, bringing existing buildings up to modern standards is significantly more difficult which of course, also means at a much higher expense. In short, moving existing buildings towards sustainability is a balancing act among time, capital, and technology and to successfully balance these constraints, it is critical to prioritize the retrofit and upgrade process. On the other hand, buildings and owners will benefit greatly from reduced energy costs and many buildings will be able to meet carbon reduction compliance metrics by implementing measures with attractive paybacks.

To this end, every building owner should be thinking about or have already completed an energy audit to determine the most cost-effective path to compliance and to benchmark current performance. Building portfolio managers should consider benchmarking their properties to focus efforts on the poorest performers first. Building owners should turn to an experienced MEP consulting firm to provide this highly beneficial energy audit and prioritization plan.

Because audits, upgrades, and renovations will likely not remain optional forever, incentives for early adopters will likely eventually give way to penalties for late adopters. Proactive owners will enjoy numerous benefits, including time for decision making and increased property values. As with any significant market shift, the initial challenges presented also represent a substantial opportunity.

For more information, please read through the following article: The Real Estate Industry’s Role in Decarbonizing Our Buildings


Elara Completes Wintrust Sports Complex At Bedford Park Project

Wintrust Sports Complex at Bedford Park – a multi-purpose sports tourism and local programming facility – recently opened its doors after completing construction in September 2021. The 2-story, 111,000 square foot venue houses 8 high school hardwood basketball courts (or 16 NCAA volleyball courts), one championship court, a Redemption Arcade, Laser Tag/Laser Frenzy, an e-Sports Café, flexible meeting and event space, a café with full kitchen service and lounge, and offices.


Working in collaboration with ALPA Construction, Elara Engineering’s services for the project included Schematic Design, Design Development, Permit/Bid/Construction Documents, Bidding, Construction Services, and Functional Testing.


Creative Solutions

A key challenge for this project was the need to address the many, highly diverse uses of the building which included individual offices, café/lounge space, recreational areas (e-Café, laser tag), flexible event spaces, and a large, high-ceiling sports facility (gymnasium). As the project’s MEPFP engineer responsible for the design of MEPFP equipment and infrastructure for the newly constructed facility, Elara’s design team – beyond addressing the overall MEPFP design challenges posed by the diverse uses of the facility – successfully incorporated the following sustainable project features:

  • Outdoor air CO2 control, saving energy by tracking CO2 levels within the occupied spaces.
  • Energy recovery enthalpy wheels to recapture energy from the discharge air stream to pre heat or pre cool the mixed air.
  • Variable speed compressors for rooftop units operate efficiently based on space load.
  • Fabric ductwork distribution system within the gymnasium.
  • State-of-the-Art web-based, open protocol building automation system.
  • Lighting control that includes occupancy sensors and automatic daylight harvesting.

Additional design elements include:

  • Gas-fired packaged rooftop units that are either single-zone VAV or VAV for individual room control to effectively serve all areas and functional uses of the building.
  • VAV systems are a combination of perimeter fan powered and interior single-zone VAV boxes with electric reheat.
  • Bathrooms are exhausted with variable flow toilet exhaust, including automatic Control dampers.
  • Natural gas generator for life safety, elevator, and fire pump.
  • Event power distribution system.

Additional information about this and other Elara projects can be found here.


Elara Projects Win 2020 Region VI ASHRAE Excellence-in-Engineering 1st Place Awards

Advancing beyond local chapter recognition, the following two Elara projects have been selected to receive a Region VI ASHRAE 1st Place award:

  • Hilton Washington Hotel & Conference Center High Pressure Boiler Conversion/Upgrade (Washington, DC)
  • 3833 North Broadway Urban Geothermal – New Construction (Chicago, IL)

These projects represent Elara Engineering’s fifth and sixth ASHRAE recognitions in Region VI which spans across portions of six US states (IL, WI, IA, MN, MO, ND).

As both projects continue to progress for potential International/Society level recognitions, we once again congratulate our dedicated and talented experts on their achievements.  We particularly recognize Don McLauchlan, Jay Parikh, and Chad Von Holten for their contributions to the Hilton Washington Hotel & Conference Center project and Don McLauchlan, Dustin Langille, Bhupendra Tailor, Nick Capretta, Mark Rockwood, and Adam Sanders for their contributions to the 3833 North Broadway project.

We again thank the owners, managers, and staff of these now Regional winners for their commitment to sustainable, energy efficiency projects and for their trust and confidence in Elara Engineering to successfully complete their projects.

Hilton Washington, DC Hotel High Pressure Boiler Plant Conversion/Upgrade

  • $56,000 in utility incentives
  • Energy opportunities identified by Elara Energy Audit and Engineering Analysis
  • Boiler conversion from medium to low pressure, burner upgrades, and DA tank modifications in lieu of replacement due to space constraints
  • Required collaboration with local authorities to gain required project approvals
  • Significant energy savings and reduced operating costs due to elimination of stationary engineers required for high-pressure steam plants
  • Full project details can be found here.



3833 North Broadway Urban Geothermal New Construction

  • New construction 8-story mixed-use building with 134 residential units, an indoor heated parking, retail spaces, and shared amenity areas
  • Geothermal heating and cooling, solar PV, exhaust air heat recovery, shower drain heat recovery, sidewalk snowmelt and demand control strategies
  • Actual EUI: 21 kbtu/ft²
  • Full project details can be found here.






Elara’s RCx Efforts Improve Comfort, Save Energy, and Avoid Costly Capital Projects at Public Library

Elara Engineering recently completed an energy evaluation of a retro-commissioning project at 95th Street Naperville Public Library aimed at improving mechanical system functionality. The 73,000 square foot Public Library was experiencing consistent, large scale comfort issues resulting from a mechanical system that was operating incorrectly. At the time of Elara’s initial involvement, the Library was considering replacement of major equipment and the building controls system in an effort to correct comfort issues. Through retro-commissioning efforts and focused repairs Elara was able to assist the Library in responsibly restoring the existing mechanical system to operate as it was originally designed.

Although the mechanical system was designed to operate at unusually low chilled water temperatures, the chiller plant was operating at an elevated temperature of 42 degrees causing terminal equipment to operate at full speed without improving space comfort. As part of Elara’s retro-commissioning efforts, the mechanical piping system was tested for appropriate quantities of glycol and adjusted. Additionally, faulty controls were identified and repaired. With the appropriate chilled water temperature restored, Elara turned its retro-commissioning focus on restoring air handling units and fan powered boxes to the original intended design operation and integrated additional energy savings measures.

Since retro-commissioning efforts were concluded, Naperville Public Library has recorded a normalized electrical energy savings of 11% and natural gas energy savings of 29% reflected in more than $20,000 in avoided utility costs annually. Additional substantial costs were avoided through reuse of the existing equipment and controls and extending their useful life. Reports of improved comfort throughout the library have reportedly been noted by guests, improving the occupant library experience.

More information about this project can be found here or on our website at


Elara Wins 5 ASHRAE Excellence-in-Engineering Awards

On January 4, 2021, Elara Engineering was recognized by the Illinois Chapter of ASHRAE with five 2020 Excellence-in-Engineering Awards.  Cumulatively, Elara has earned a total number of 29 ASHRAE awards, several of which also represent projects that have secured awards at ASHRAE’s regional and international levels.

Taken together, the five awards exemplify Elara’s passion and ongoing commitment to the sustainable design of energy efficient building infrastructure systems.  The five awards also showcase the breadth and depth of our team’s experience and expertise to deliver practical solutions and designs for a wide variety of project types (new construction, retrofits), building types (high-rise residential, hospitality, higher education), and innovative applications of existing and new technologies.

We congratulate our dedicated and talented project teams on their achievement and recognition by their peers in the Illinois Chapter of ASHRAE. We also extend our thanks to the owners, managers, and staff of these award-winning buildings for their vision and commitment to sustainable, energy efficiency projects.

The Elm at Clark (1122 N. Clark) Makeup Air Unit Replacement

  • $82,539 in utility incentives
  • New chiller plant, condensing boiler plant and MAU for operational flexibility, comfort, performance, reliability, and efficiency
  • New BAS system and dual temperature changeover
  • Project implementation prioritization plan reduced overall project cost
  • Full project details can be found here.




3383 North Broadway Urban Geothermal New Construction

  • New construction 8-story mixed-use building with 134 residential units, an indoor heated parking, retail spaces, and shared amenity areas
  • Geothermal heating and cooling, solar PV, exhaust air heat recovery, shower drain heat recovery, sidewalk snowmelt and demand control strategies
  • Actual EUI: 21 kbtu/ft²
  • Full project details can be found here.



Hilton Washington, DC Hotel High Pressure Boiler Plant Conversion/Upgrade

  • $56,000 in utility incentives
  • Energy opportunities identified by Elara Energy Audit and Engineering Analysis
  • Boiler conversion from medium to low pressure, burner upgrades, and DA tank modifications in lieu of replacement due to space constraints
  • Required collaboration with local authorities to gain required project approvals
  • Significant energy savings and reduced operating costs due to elimination of stationary engineers required for high-pressure steam plants
  • Full project details can be found here.


Loyola University Chicago Francis Hall MEPFP New Construction

  • New Construction 8-Story, 133,400 sq. ft. residence hall
  • LEED Silver
  • Heat recovery VRF units and DOAS system with CO2 controls, energy recovery exhaust air, high-efficiency boilers, and variable speed VRF compressors
  • Natural ventilation design includes a motorized façade that opens to outdoors
  • Ultra-low flow toilets, low-flow showers, and separate irrigation/non-potable water loop
  • LED lighting/automatic light controls, automatic plug load control, and continuous power monitoring
  • Full project details can be found here.


The Legacy at Millennium Park Electric to Gas Makeup Air Heating Conversion

  • 73-story, existing mixed-use building
  • Elara ventilation study identified opportunity to convert makeup air system from electric to natural gas heating
  • New hot water heating and re-heat coils sized to maximize efficiency, with negligible fan energy penalty and minimum boiler efficiencies of 94%
  • Parallel ECM pumps reduced pump energy usage
  • Phased implementation to minimize interruption
  • $330,000 in annual energy cost savings
  • Full project details can be found here.


Additional Recognitions

University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Academic and Residential Complex New Construction

  • Multifamily Pillars of the Industry Award for Best On-Campus Student Housing Community from the National Association of Home Builders
  • 2020 Architizer A+ Awards: Popular Choice Award for Higher Education and Research Facilities from Architizer
  • Full project details can be found here.

Fields Lofts Renovation and Adaptive Use (Chicago, IL)

  • 2020 Metamorphosis Award, First Place Winner in the Multi-Family Residential Category by Retrofit Magazine, a national journal covering renovations and adaptive use projects
  • The link to the official announcement and article can be found here.

29 North Wacker (Sun Life Assurance Building; Chicago, IL)

  • Featured in Building Energy Exchange Report High-Rise/Low Carbon – Office Deep Retrofit Profiles
  • The link to a PDF of the report can be found here.

2020 – A Different Year, but with Continued Success for Elara Engineering

We are pleased to announce that 2020 was another successful year for Elara Engineering as we quickly modified the way we do our work to keep our employees, clients, and vendors safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Continuing to build from our increase in staff, project locations in more states, greater involvement in K-12 schools, and philanthropic involvement from our dedicated employees, we eagerly look forward to providing our clients in 2021 with constructible, energy efficient designs that help the environment, save money, and increase asset value.


Elara Associate Principal Dustin Langille on Discussion Panel: How the COVID19 Pandemic is Changing the Way Schools are Managed and Designed

On October 1, 2020, Associate Principal Dustin Langille participated in a panel discussion with Robin Randall, Principal at Legat Architects, and Clarence Carson, Chief of Facilities at Chicago Public Schools, on the challenges faced by school districts as they grapple with reopening. The panel discussed operational and design changes needed to keep students, teachers, and staff safe during the current pandemic and beyond.  Using the Chicago Public School System as a framework for discussion, questions and issues that were covered included:

  • If/When students are allowed to return to school, how does one balance safety with effecting learning?
  • With students currently learning remotely, have schools been making upgrades or renovations?
  • How has the pandemic fundamentally changed the way schools are managed and designed?
  • The challenges around finding broad solutions for districts with new buildings and those with ones that are 100 years and older.

To view the panel discussion, please go to: Please note that a brief registration may be required to access the video.

Dustin is an Associate Principal and Mechanical Team Leader at Elara Engineering. In this role, he leads a team of mechanical engineers and support staff and serves as engineer-in-charge and primary contact for new construction, renovation and energy retrofit projects involving a wide variety of system types and complexities across various markets. Dustin is currently spearheading Elara’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic which includes guiding clients on the strategies they can employ to mitigate the risk of airborne transmission and coordinating indoor air quality (IAQ) design efforts. With increased focus on returning to school, Dustin’s efforts have largely been focused on working with K-12 and higher education clients.


Elara Completes Design for Tribune Tower Adaptive Reuse Project

A Renewed Chicago Landmark
Working alongside architect Solomon Cordwell Bunez (SCB), Elara Engineering recently completed the MEPFP design for an adaptive reuse project that converted the iconic 34-story Tribune Tower and surrounding buildings into 162 luxury condominium units, while respecting the building’s Chicago landmark status.

Originally constructed in 1925, the Tribune Tower is one of Chicago’s most recognized historic landmarks.  In 1935, the Radio Building was added to the site, followed by the Television Building in 1950.  In 2018, the Chicago Tribune newspaper vacated the building and planning began to transform the site.

In addition to the conversion of the Tribune Tower, four additional floors will be added to the northeast side above the TV Building, providing a modern, glass complement to the existing limestone facades and creating a new elevated courtyard.  A full luxury amenity program will encompass several unique spaces, including a series of terraces at the tower’s crown that will give residents a one-of-a-kind experience beneath iconic, gothic buttresses.

Creative Solutions
As the project’s MEPFP engineer responsiblefor the design and installation of new major MEPFP equipment and infrastructure throughout the existing tower and addition; the depth of experience, creativity, and problem-solving ability of Elara’s team enabled the design to exceed the City of Chicago’s sustainability ordinance.  For example,

  • Elara identified the opportunity and confirmed reuse of the building’s existing emergency generator, ComEd vault, and existing chilled water plant that utilizes a river water condensing system.
  • Condominium units have smart thermostats with remote sensors and are served by four-pipe fan coil units installed in enclosures with ducted return and variable ventilation systems (including makeup air and toilet, kitchen, and dryer exhaust system) implemented throughout the building.
  • New direct digital control (DDC) designed to serve all major mechanical systems.
  • Car charging infrastructure designed to support entire garage.
  • To maximize indoor air quality, dedicated outdoor air systems use superior MERV-13 filtration, humidified air is provided throughout the property, residential ventilation is provided directly to each condominium unit to minimize the mixing of air, and self-regulating exhaust systems have been designed and installed.

Additional information about this and other Elara projects can be found here.


MEPFP Retrofit Projects Improve Operational Flexibility and System Performance, Reliability, and Efficiency

In addition to a Dual Temperature System Study, Boiler & Chiller Plant
Schematic Design Report, and DHW Plant Replacement Report, Elara Engineering has completed the following MEPFP infrastructure retrofit projects for an occupied 39-story high-rise condominium building:

  • New Generator,
  • MUA Replacement,
  • FACP Upgrade,
  • Chiller Replacement,
  • Boiler Plant Replacement, and
  • Expansion Joint Replacement
  • New DDC System

Constructed in 1989, The Elm at Clark (1122 North Clark Street; Chicago, IL) includes a 6-level parking garage, sundeck, outdoor pool, and hospitality room within 396,000 square feet.

In addition to securing $82,539 from utility energy efficiency incentive programs to offset equipment installation costs and creating a project implementation prioritization plan that reduced overall project costs, Elara’s innovative engineering design team successfully provided the following to increase operational flexibility, improve occupant comfort, and enhance system performance, reliability, and efficiency:

  • New chiller plant, condensing boiler plant, and open protocol expandable building automation system
  • Enhanced dual temperature changeover control that significantly reduces changeover time between heating and cooling modes (from days to hours) aimed at improving occupant comfort while maintaining protection of new equipment.
  • New MUA incorporating a summer dehumidification mode.
  • New non-proprietary central fire alarm control panel (FACP) and devices with for less cost than replacing the existing proprietary FACP alone.
  • New expansion joints to proactively replace existing joints that were beginning to fail.

More information about this and other Elara projects can be found here.


Medium Voltage Electrical Upgrades Completed for MA Center Chicago

Elara Engineering’s Electrical Team recently completed design efforts to improve the reliability of existing medium-voltage campus electrical systems, replace aged equipment, and create additional electrical capacity to accommodate the renovation of existing buildings and the construction of future facilities for the M.A. Center Chicago (MACC).

Located in Elburn, Illinois, MACC is a spiritual-based campus comprised of several existing buildings that were previously utilized as a boarding school. The campus includes a South Lodge, Gymnasium, Event Hall, Kitchen Building, Auditorium, Workshop, several small garages, and a water pump/treatment building. In addition to the renovation of existing buildings, a multi-year campus expansion is underway that includes new single-family townhomes, additions to the  lodge buildings and new Spiritual Hub,  Administration and Multi-Purpose Centers.

Elara’s work required close coordination with Commonwealth Edison to design a new 12KV campus infrastructure for building renovations and future additions. As a result, new medium voltage switchgear, transformers were installed to serve newly constructed townhomes and an administrative/multipurpose center, with another transformer installed at an existing substation building.  For the various buildings on the MACC campus, Elara’s work entailed the following:

  • Campus. Designed new medium voltage campus substation switchgear and associated campus distribution to existing building panelboards with capacity for new and future buildings.
  • Chalets, Villas and Townhomes. MEP schematic design and site lighting and related construction services for the new structures.
  • Kitchen, Gymnasium, and Event Hall Building. Replaced the existing panelboards in the kitchen, gymnasium and event halls fed from the campus substation switchgear. Designed new power distribution for the 28,000 square foot gymnasium and 10,000 square foot event hall. A new code compliant grounding system was also installed for each of the gymnasium and event hall buildings.
  • Water Tower. Designed a new code compliant power system that included a new panelboard, new transformer and associated wiring, including provisions for a future backup generator.

Additional information about this project and other Elara projects can be found here.


Elara’s Plumbing Modifications Address Flooding at New Orleans Hotel

Due to repeated previous flooding, the potential for future flood events, and the location of critical building systems in the basement of the Pere Marquette Hotel, Elara designed numerous plumbing system modifications to minimize the potential impact of floodi ng on building operations and life safety.

The Pere Marquette Hotel, an 18-story luxury hotel located in the historic French Quarter of New Orleans was originally constructed in 1925, renovated in 2001, and underwent repairs to the base building after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  The hotel property has 275 guest rooms, a restaurant, a café, a fitness center, banquet and conference facilities, offices, and a parking garage.

Elara’s project scope was coordinated with and reimbursed by the building owner’s insurance carrier with the intent to minimize future claims. This proactive approach included the implementation of the following measures:

  • Relocation of the building’s fire pump and major electrical infrastructure to the first floor
  • Replacement and consolidation of two booster pumps to one relocated to the first floor
  • Installation of larger storm water removal pumps, additional storm water removal pumps and the design of a de-watering solution to minimize the impact of the flooding including an additional pumping basin, drain tile, and a submarine door.

More information about this project and other Elara projects can be found here.



Elara Completes Boiler Plant Replacement and Chiller Plant Addition in 42-Story Condominium Building

Elara Engineering recently completed design and construction coordination to replace existing heating boilers and install new chillers  to serve 42-story occupied condominium building in Chicago.  Elara further secured $57,500 in utility incentive funding for the project and system replacements and upgrades are estimated to provide $46,500 per year of utility cost savings for the building.

The catalyst for the building upgrades was derived from Elara’s design report and review that identified and evaluated alternatives for improvements and/or replacement of the building’s existing boiler and chilled water plants.

New Boiler Plant. For this portion of the project, Elara designed and installed a new high-efficiency condensing boiler plant, hot water pumps with variable frequency drives (VFDs), and a new tube bundle in one of the building heating heat exchangers.  Ancillary work included new sump pumps, sealing the boiler room floor, and repairing and re-lining the boiler flue.

New Chiller.  Two additional water-cooled chillers were installed in the basement boiler room and sized for partial load of the building for system redundancy to facilitate repair or maintenance and increased operating efficiency.  Additional work included tying the new chillers into the existing chiller plant located in the building’s garage chiller room the installation of a new refrigerant detection and emergency exhaust system, and the refurbishment of the existing cooling tower including retrofitting new motors and VFDs on the cooling tower fans.

More information about this project and other Elara projects can be found here.


Elara’s Matt Swanson Publishes Article: “Proactive Energy Cost Reduction on the Rise in Chicago High-Rise Buildings”

Elara Engineering Associate Principal Matt Swanson, LEED AP, CEM has had the above titled article placed as the cover story in the Autumn 2019 issue of Chicagoland Buildings & Environments.

The article presents the proactive approach taken to lower energy costs at the existing 474 North Lake Shore Drive high-rise condominium building located in the Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago.  Elara’s forward-looking approach implemented over several years by the 474 North Lake Shore Drive Condominium Association resulted in a 23% reduction in relative energy costs since 2007; a savings of $127,930 annually.

Beginning with Elara’s 2008 energy audit, the building’s Condominium Association maintained a constant focus on the energy performance of their building and continuously implemented energy conservation recommendations identified in the 2008 audit report, and subsequent reports in 2011 and 2015.

Consistent with Elara’s recommended strategy, projects that addressed “low hanging fruit” such as controls and VFDs that have a short-term payback and reduce the overall load of the building systems, were implemented first.  This strategy paid dividends during a 2016 chiller plant replacement.  Reduced demand of end-user systems (e.g., AHUs, exhaust fans, etc.) from previously recommended energy efficiency projects allowed for the installation of new chillers that were smaller in capacity; resulting in both lower initial and operating costs.  The associated savings allowed the Condominium Association to fund other energy efficiency upgrades.

In total, all of Elara’s recommendations that were implemented represented an incremental cost of $900,000 with a payback of less than 10 years.  Additionally, $58,275 was obtained through utility incentive programs to assist in funding the projects as a result of the energy efficiency improvements implemented.

A reprint of Mr. Swanson’s article can be found here and more detailed information about Elara’s 474 North Lake Shore Drive Project can be found here.


Elara Completes UIC Residence Hall/Academic Building Complex for 2019-2020 Academic Year

Elara Engineering recently attended the ribbon cutting ceremony of a newly constructed 10-story residence hall and attached 2-story double height academic building at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). As part of a combined Academic and Residential Complex, the new building reflects the University’s ongoing role as a driver of innovation and opportunity in Chicago.


Elara’s Services, Technologies, and LEED Gold Designation

Elara’s technical services throughout the entire lifecycle of the project included conceptual planning, schematic design, design development, permit documents, construction documents, bidding assistance, and construction administration. To accommodate dramatically different uses and occupant needs between the academic and residential spaces, Elara’s unique design separated the mechanical systems for the residence hall and the academic building; while incorporating shared – but separately metered – mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.  Specific design technologies include; air-cooled VRF, packaged DOAS, air-cooled VAV system, hot water reheat, condensing boilers, radiant heat, DCV, automated lighting and shade control, and DDC. A LEED Gold rating under LEED v4.0 New Construction is anticipated later in 2019.


Academic Building

The 52,700 sq.ft. 2-story academic space contains open circulation lounge spaces, a grand staircase, a student communications stop (“C-Stop”) and large auditorium style classrooms designed for student collaboration. The academic building incorporates a glass enclosure with exterior shading.


Residential Tower

The 147,000 square foot residence hall includes 548 beds in traditional two-person dorm rooms and semi-suite style units; and, 16,000 square feet of shared spaces that house a fitness center, laundry facility, and a 10th-floor sky lounge.


“I am thrilled and grateful to be part of the design and construction of this exceptional building for UIC where my passion for energy and building systems began when I was an engineering student here. UIC has been an important contributor to HVAC design and construction in Chicago with a long history of developing talented engineers for our industry. It is truly an amazing experience for me to return to campus as part of Elara’s design team for a building that will be identifiable with UIC for years to come.”

                                                                                                                                                                         – Brian Malone, P.E., C.E.M., C.E.A., LEED AP
                                                                                                                                                                          Associate Principal, Elara Engineering
                                                                                                                                                                          UIC Engineering Alumnus
More information about this and other Elara projects can be found here.

KCC ATEC Building Construction Completed with $133,048 Awarded in DCEO Funding and LEED Gold Certification

First designed by Elara Engineering in 2009 using Building Information Modeling (BIM) and then delayed significantly by sudden, unexpected State of Illinois budget freezes, final construction of Kankakee Community College’s (KCC) Advanced Technology Education Center (ATEC) was completed earlier in 2019.  The ability to maintain project focus over a ten-year period was only possible because of Elara’s, KCC’s, and the lead architect’s commitment to keep the same core team throughout the entire duration of the project.  This long-term buy-in to the project’s ultimate completion and success was the critical success factor that made this objective possible.

State Funding Interruptions

Soon after construction bids were let in 2010, the State of Illinois froze its funding contribution to effectively cancel the project.  In 2014, State funding was re-established, and construction bids were reissued. However, immediately after completion of the new building’s concrete footings in 2015, State funding was once again frozen, and the project was suspended for the second time.  Finally, in 2018, KCC received the State’s funding portion to allow construction to proceed uninterrupted to completion in 2019.

Budget Success

Even though the building design was ultimately adjusted to accommodate (1) technology advances and opportunities to further enhance system efficiencies, (2) changes in student/faculty use habits within the building, and (3) the unavailability of previously specified equipment (e.g., production of the originally selected roof top AHUs had ceased); the project – even after ten years of inflation and incurred stoppage/restart costs – only required a less than 3.4% change order ten years after the initial design.

Technology Success

Recently awarded LEED Gold designation, ATEC earned a $133,048 U.S. Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity incentive to alleviate project costs and uses 30% less energy than a baseline ASHRAE 90.1-2004 building.  The building features classrooms and functional, green technology laboratories; including wind, solar thermal, solar photovoltaic, electrical simulation and “roof labs” where photovoltaic cells were installed with walk-out access to enable student “hands-on” learning.

The highly innovative design includes:

  • Variable ventilation/demand CO2 control
  • A dedicated outside air system to provide fresh air at the floor level
  • A single pipe loop geothermal/ground source heat pump system for heating and cooling in lieu of a two-pipe geothermal system which reduced pipe and insulation use and material costs
  • High-efficiency lighting throughout the building with external and internal shading to help maintain a comfortable learning environment

Although the ATEC project was atypically long due to impacts and hurdles beyond the client’s control, it is representative of the strength of our client relationships and of our unwavering commitment to see any project through to completion – no matter what it takes.

Additional information about this project can be found here.


Elara Decentralizes Steam Plant Serving Northwestern University’s Downtown Chicago Campus

Elara Engineering recently completed the first of two phases of engineering to decentralize an aging steam plant serving Northwestern University’s downtown Chicago campus through the design and installation of several distributed hot water, medium-pressure steam, and low-pressure steam boiler plants.

Through its assessment and investigation to define the project scope and objectives, Elara determined conversion to hot water heating via distributed plants presented opportunities for energy and maintenance savings while the remaining steam production could be focused specifically on humidification and process loads. Locating small, high pressure process boilers in each building near process users allows for a significant reduction in energy and maintenance while limiting the low-pressure steam plant to winter usage allows the plant to be shut off during the summer. This design approach reduces energy costs but also allows for maintenance to occur during the summer when the boilers are not operational. Most heating, re-heat, and domestic hot water loads are served from condensing hot water boilers to maximize energy savings.  Other identified benefits of decentralizing campus heating include updating a large portion of existing infrastructure and freeing up additional land for future development in a highly urbanized environment.

The first phase of the project – completed in Fall of 2018 — addressed six campus buildings that primarily house classroom and office spaces and that do not require process steam. With Elara’s design, Northwestern University’s Abbott Hall, 345 E. Superior building, Rubloff Building, Levy Mayer Hall, McCormick Hall, and Wieboldt Hall are now supported by three new boiler plants. The plants in Abbott Hall and 345 E. Superior are stand-alone systems dedicated to supporting the building they are housed within; whereas, the Rubloff Building boiler plant supports Levy Mayer Hall, McCormick Hall, Wieboldt Hall, and the Rubloff Building itself.

In addition to the development of permit documents, contractor selection assistance, construction services, and functional testing; Elara reviewed applicable local incentive programs, prepared applications, and facilitated the approval process for selected incentives. To date, $129,952 of incentives have been procured for this $5.9M project.


Elara Replaces Galvanized Domestic Water Piping Throughout Occupied 42-Story Condominium Building

Elara Engineering recently completed the engineering design and coordinated construction effort to replace leaking galvanized steel domestic water piping with new copper piping for an entire 42-story residential building, while fully occupied.  The large-scale project – completed under budget and ahead of schedule included common areas, hot and cold supply risers, condo unit branch piping, hot water return risers, and express risers (a total of 17 risers).

Key project factors included creative scheduling and work coordination to balance project speed and cost while minimizing unit occupant disruptions.  Working within these parameters, the project maintained water service to each unit at the end of each work day while impacting each unit for no more than 20 consecutive business days.  Elara worked closely with contractors, building staff, the condominium association board and building occupants to achieve a successful project.

The building’s risers are divided into two vertical zones that span Floors 1-22 and 23-42. One of the risers consists of express vertical risers to deliver domestic cold and hot water from the basement directly to the ceiling of the 22nd Floor, and horizontally to risers that serve Floors 23-42.  Two other risers serve the high and low zone and return hot water to the domestic hot water heaters located in the basement.

Elara recommended, further customized and then executed a three-phased project approach for this building.

  • Phase 1: An initial study was performed to identify scope, major obstacles to the project, potential project phasing, and cost estimate.
  • Phase 2: Replaced horizontal distribution piping, isolation valves, and an initial riser.
  • Phase 3 Replaced remaining piping throughout the building utilizing the knowledge obtained in the previous phases.

More information about this project and other Elara projects can be found here.


Mechanical Upgrade of Library Protects Rare Book Collection and Lowers Energy Bills

Elara Engineering has completed a mechanical, electrical, and fire alarm retrofit of Loyola University’s historic Cudahy Library located on its Lake Shore Campus in Chicago, Illinois.

The MEP upgrade of the 3-story building, originally constructed in the 1920s, will dramatically reduce energy costs while installed systems to control temperature and humidity will help protect and further preserve the life expectancy of the 12,600+ rare books housed in the Archives and Special Collections department of the Library.  The prized collection reflects the liberal arts foundation of Loyola University in the areas of Philosophy, Religion, History and Geography, and Language and Literature.

To achieve the project’s objectives, Elara:

  • Converted the building from costly electric resistance heating to hot water heating fed by the Campus’ high efficiency hot water plant.
  • Replaced aged and noisy Air Handling Units (AHUs) that provided insufficient humidity control with new custom consolidated VAV and heat pump systems which incorporated energy recovery, including the innovative installation of new fan powered boxes with hot water reheat coils designed to circulate chilled water during cooling to act, in essence; as active chilled beams.
  • Installed a new heat pump system with a fluid cooler for the Library’s book stack area and waterside economizer for fan powered boxes via heat exchanger.
  • Replaced existing pneumatic control system with a new state-of-the-art Direct Digital Control building automation system tied to the Campus’ network.
  • Upgraded the building’s main electrical panel and fire alarm system and modified the electrical infrastructure to support the new and upgraded mechanical systems.


Elara Improves Comfort and Reduces Energy Costs by 50%

The Residence at Water Tower Place Condominium Association retained Elara Engineering to perform a holistic review of the building’s ventilation system to identify opportunities to improve performance, reduce energy consumption, and to improve occupant comfort.  The following two-fold design approach reduced energy costs by 50% ($210,000 over the first eight months of operation) and improved occupant comfort through upgrade of the building’s central ventilation systems including reestablishing central humidification and improving building pressurization.

Intelligent Ventilation Control

Demand Controlled Ventilation (DCV) with dampers behind each condominium unit’s exhaust grille that open when exhaust is required (morning, evening) and close when not needed (mid-day, overnight) was utilized to:

  • Reduce Fan Power to save significant energy,
  • Improve Building Pressurization to reduce air and water infiltration, drafty conditions, and stack effect, and
  • Reduce Makeup Air Volume to save significant energy.

Optimization of Makeup Air Unit Performance

Once the building’s exhaust and makeup air systems were operating intelligently, the Makeup Air Units (MAU) were improved by converting the ventilation system to an intelligently controlled demand oriented system, converting existing electric MAUs to gas, and adding three forms of heat recovery.


Elara Engineering Contributes to Successful Highland Park HS & Deerfield HS Renovation Project

“We could not have done this without a solid team.  Many thanks to the Gilbane, Elara, Perkins + Will and all the contractors that worked on this project!!” 

Daniel Mortensen, CPMM
Director of Facilities Management
Township High School District 113

In a recent article in the Daily North Shore highlighting the work at the District’s Highland Park High School, Mr. Mortensen indicated that the most challenging part of the effort was the multi-year phasing of the project.  “We wanted to ensure that the construction activities would not have a negative impact on the learning environment over the four years of ongoing construction.”  He further stated that the four-year project is ahead of schedule. The project was initially targeted for completion in August of 2018. “The project is not closed out yet, but we are currently under budget and we’re anticipating it being 100 percent complete in August of 2017.”

Additional details about the Highland Park High School renovation project can be found in the Daily North Shore article at (