Student Housing: VRF Beats Geothermal

In the late 1960s, a group of artists working and teaching in the Boston area had a bold idea – to create a new kind of school for professional education in the visual arts. Boston’s North Shore was home to America’s oldest working artist colony, so the executive committee looked 18 miles north of Boston in circa 1626 Beverly, Mass. They found ideal space for the school in the 100-year-old neighborhood of Montserrat – named by sea captains in the 1800s because the Beverly coastline reminded them of the famous island in the Caribbean. By 1970, the Montserrat School of Visual Arts was born.

A decade later, the still-young institution was accredited and granted the authority to award the Bachelor of Arts degree. With that milestone came a new name: Montserrat College of Art. Students were drawn by the intensive studio environment and the one-on-one instruction from a faculty of accomplished artists, designers and scholars. By 1990, Montserrat had outgrown its original facility and moved to historic downtown Beverly. Expanded teaching facilities, studios and residence halls opened in a vibrant, artistic environment of restored, wharf-side warehouses, lofts and old shipbuilding offices.

Modular Village Created for Student Housing

By 2005, Montserrat’s success demanded additional space for student housing.

Led by Interim President Helena J. Sturnick, the Board of Directors created the college’s first-ever capital campaign to raise money for new student housing. To oversee this ambitious project, the college turned to construction manager Windover Construction, Inc., Manchester, Mass., because of its excellent construction reputation on the North Shore. Jim Burke was named project manager for the design/build team.

“We decided that the design/build process would deliver the finest results for the new student village,” Burke said. Abandoned buildings adjacent to the campus were purchased and demolished by the Windover team to make room for the new housing. “We hired a Beverly architectural firm and tasked them with incorporating the latest in eco-friendly, green design and blending the building into Beverly’s surrounding distinguished neighborhood.”

The Board directed the architects to design the residences around the independence of apartment-style living – a minimum of four students including at least two bedrooms with complete bath, kitchen and living room. They wanted their new building to include light-filled common areas, studio spaces and galleries for exhibiting student work. To successfully blend into the historic neighborhood, the architects created a mini-residence, modular village of four buildings for apartment-style living.

Exclusive INVERTER Technology Chosen Over Geothermal

For the most current design in sustainable, eco-friendly cooling and heating solutions, the architects turned to their MEP consultants, Crossfield Engineering, Inc., Groveland, Mass. Crossfield was asked to explore the growing popularity of environmentally friendly geothermal heating and cooling for the Village.

Over the previous two years, Crossfield had successfully designed Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) zoning systems from Mitsubishi Electric Cooling and Heating Solutions, Suwanee, Ga., for a 911 call center, radio station and performing arts center. “We always get savvy support from our local Mitsubishi Electric sales manager,” Crossfield said. “We called her in to look over the building plans for the new Village. It was no surprise that she returned with some valuable research, insight and recommendations.”

The research clearly demonstrated that a residential geothermal system – drilling for wells, water-to-water heat pumps, ductwork, additional fan coils, baseboard radiators and a distribution subsystem would cost the college an additional $300,000 (plus) over the hyper-heating INVERTER system she believed to be a perfect fit for the Village.

Hyper-Heating INVERTER Introduced

New from Mitsubishi in 2008, Hyper-Heating INVERTER (H2i) technology features a redesigned, redefined heat pump, that delivers full heating comfort even when New England winters dropped to a chilly negative 13 degrees outdoors. The H2i outdoor units use flash technology which re-collects heat energy that is normally wasted in the flash process at the outdoor coil.

The exclusive Mitsubishi H2i heat pump adjusts its speed to precisely match the load requirements within each zone, providing Montserrat with significant energy savings. Use of the INVERTER-driven compressor would provide residents of the Village with year-round, constant comfort. The system’s unique, modular architecture would give Crossfield optimum design flexibility in addition to longer refrigerant line lengths. The quietness of the system would be important for the students, be well within local sound ordinances and have zero impact on the adjacent residential neighborhoods. Finally, the system’s “dry mode” would offer great dehumidification benefits because of the proximity to the Beverly Harbor and Atlantic Ocean.

Neighbors Can’t Tell the System’s Running

“The arguments for the H2i system made a lot of sense and we wound up recommending this new system to the Board,” Burke said. “Everything came together beautifully. Because of very limited space surrounding the Village, we were able to tuck the four outdoor units inconspicuously on the roof – they have a very small footprint and are extremely lightweight by industry standards.

“Village neighbors love the fact that they cannot even tell when the system is running,” Burke said. “The installation was commissioned in late July and we have heard nothing but good news from the first Village residents. There are indications that the INVERTER-driven compressors are already delivering energy savings that exceed our cost projections.”

Energy Efficient and Contractor Friendly

The HVAC contractor for the Montserrat project was Dry Air Systems, Inc., Newburyport, Mass. Project manager Chuck Brunelle said, “The Mitsubishi Electric VRF zoning system is really contractor friendly to install. We enjoyed working with this product because, in addition to being extremely quiet and energy efficient, the very small size of the equipment was tailor-made for this modular Village.”