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Churn rate challenges lessened for owners of new building

U. Earl Dunn

On a side street just east of Moana Lane in Reno, a single-story office building is nearing completion.

To the casual observer, there is nothing dramatic about this structure.

But on the inside, this building is teeming with revolutionary technologies that could become the standard in office building development over the next 20 years.

The Warren Way structure is being built by Triple Crown Construction Development Company.

John Preku, president, is convinced that it won’t be long before most all new office complexes will be utilizing many of the new technologies he employed.

Preku is building the office complex for his client,Huckabay Properties, and says, to his knowledge, this is the first commercial office building in the Truckee Meadows using raised flooring to pump fresh outside air directly into the building’s work space from beneath the floor.

“This building incorporates features that will make it much healthier for its occupants,” Preku says.”It will also offer more versatility for the occupants when they want to add or change out computer, voice, data or other telecommunications systems.

But, for the building owner, this building will also make it much easier and cheaper to make tenant improvements when they become necessary.”

Because office building owners may experience a churn rate as high as 50 percent over a given year, the cost can run as high as $5 a square foot to make required changes.With a raised floor system, that cost can drop to less than $1.”It is not insignificant,” says Preku, who is also quick to add that if buildings are perceived to be healthier, then tenants may not be as disposed to move as frequently.

Office workers, long frustrated by room temperatures that fluctuate from too hot to too cold, or by stale air that recirculates, leaving some drowsy by late afternoon, are certain to applaud the under-floor air distribution system this new building employs.

It is a trend that’s finding favor here in the states after decades of use in Europe, South Africa and Japan.

Fred Bauman, a research specialist at the University of California’s Center for the Built Environment in Berkeley, says even though many engineers and developers here in the U.S.

are still resisting, the under-floor system is making rapid inroads.

The raised floor concept also allows electrical wiring, computer, and telecommunication voice and data cables to rest on the concrete slab below, surfacing where needed at specific work stations, offices or conference rooms.

Preku says the initial costs of under-floor systems are probably a bit higher than those for conventional systems where air from rooftop HVAC units is usually pushed down from the ceiling into the work space, recirculated, and pumped outside.

Preku contends that most overhead HVAC units only introduce 30 to 40 percent fresh air, the balance being recirculated air.

Introducing fresh air from beneath the floor, he says,makes more sense because it then rises and is expelled from the building.

“The real savings,” says Preku, “come when you have tenant turnover and the new tenant wants the facility wired differently or needs additional walls or a conference room either added or removed.

I do a great deal of tenant improvement work for my clients.

Believe me, this system will definitely save the building owners lots of money.

There’s no tearing out of walls or ceilings to bring cables down to newly-placed work stations.

Power, voice or data lines can be changed out in record time and at about one-fifth of the cost of conventional rewiring techniques.”

Key to this first-of-its-kind office building in the Truckee Meadows is the raised flooring.

“Because of the raised modular flooring system,” he says,”all of the air that will be introduced into the building will come from beneath the flooring.

In the winter, it will come into the office space heated, and in the summer, it will be cooled air.”

Because the flooring panels are modular, heating and cooling registers can be positioned where they are needed right at work stations.

Office workers can regulate the amount of heat or cold flowing up from below.

The flooring system,manufactured by Tate Access Floors, costs more than conventional flooring laid down on concrete slabs.

But Preku said it is nearly balanced by cost savings produced in using HVAC systems that are onehalf the size needed in a traditional office structure.

“With the larger units, you need more powerful fans to push the air from the rooftop through the ductwork in the ceiling and down into the work space,” says Preku.”My HVAC units simply push the air through a channel in the building’s outside wall core where it is moved beneath the floor and up to the work stations.

This way,we heat or cool the working space first instead of the top two to three feet beneath the ceiling.

It just makes good sense.”