We’re Going to the Chapel and We’re Going to….Upgrade the Utility and MEP Systems

Durham is filled with public parks, museums, world-class restaurants, and universities, and its population continues to grow with the addition of small and large companies popping up in the renowned Tobacco District outside the famous Durham Bulls Stadium. While the changes are exciting and growth means big things for central North Carolina's economy, there's one place that has been rooted for nearly a century, and it's not going anywhere any time soon. In fact, a facility-wide renovation was recently wrapped up at the iconic Duke University Chapel. Students, faculty, and staff travel from all over the world to attend, work for, and research at Duke University. The chapel is just one of the many places that makes this private university such a unique aspect of Durham. The chapel is more than just a church, it's a place for commencement ceremonies, weddings, concerts, and more.

The historic Duke University Chapel welcomes thousands of visitors each year for weddings, commencement ceremonies, concerts, and of course, church services.

Renovating an Icon from the Inside Out

The facility was designed and constructed in the 1930s, and since then, it hadn't undergone any major renovations beyond the addition of a cherished Flentrop Organ in 1976. In May of 2015, the doors were closed and renovations began on this historic church. The stain glass windows were shipped off to be cleaned and sealed, marble floors were polished, organs were fine-tuned, the roof was replaced with lead-coated copper, the limestone ribs and Guastavino tile ceiling was revamped, and wood paneling was refinished. But the renovations ran deeper than the surface. The church's utility and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems had not been updated either. After having spent some time working closely with Duke University on other MEP projects across campus, we were tasked with analyzing and redesigning the utility and MEP systems for the church. This included documentation of the original steam piping, new steam service and pressure reduction station, new chilled water service and metering, air handling unit (AHU) replacement, building automation system controls upgrade, electric utility service replacement, panelboard and electrical distribution upgrades, electrical support for audio/visual and theatrical lighting, small area renovations, an arc flash study, and commissioning of existing utilities.

Upgrades included more than just refinishing floors and windows, but a complete overhaul of the existing utility and MEP systems, which included the installation of a building automation system.

How we Worked Through Some Unique Challenges

One of the biggest challenges of this project was the tight space constraints that limited the AHU installation. Through a collaborative relationship with the AHU manufacturer and project contractor, we were able to accomplish work within the restrictive space of the existing mechanical room, an aggressive design and construction schedule, and deliver a customized air handling solution to suit the needs of the chapel.

Providing services to a building full of such history for our state was an exciting endeavor. It's wonderful to see the growth happening in central North Carolina, but I'm thankful that historic spots like this chapel are still intact and drawing visitors from all over the world.