ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — The public’s continued fascination with 20th century artist Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dali I Domenech, more commonly known as Dali, can be seen in the success of the new Dali Museum here, which opened Jan. 11, 2011. Since then nearly half a million art enthusiasts have walked through the $30 million, 66,500-sq.ft. building.

While visitors come to view the renowned work of the Spanish painter, they also have a chance to admire the museum’s architecture, but little do they know of the extra precautions taken in the design of the mechanical systems to safeguard the artwork from unforeseen hazards, such as water damage and humidity. The building is also designed and constructed with 18-in. thick walls and a 12-in. thick roof to withstand up to a Category 5 hurricane, which is extremely important for a building in Florida, especially one housing such valuable pieces of artwork.

The museum opted to use a copper pipe system, which Feddon Mechanical, formerly known as Alliance Plumbing and Mechanical Inc., of St. Petersburg, Fla., installed. Viega ProPress copper was used on the large pipe sizes; total footage was approximately 1,500 feet of pipe. Feddon Mechanical was awarded the ABC Excellence in Construction Eagle award for its work on the project.

“The protection of the displays was a major concern and the design attempted to eliminate a situation where any water piping would be installed above the art,” said Jim Stark, vice president and senior project manager at Feddon Mechanical.  

Stark said that the major reason they chose to use the press system was the time needed to install the pipe.

“The project had a critical deadline,” added Stark. “This joining system can cut labor by 30%, allowing the same size crew to install much more pipe in a shorter period of time.”

The sequence of construction was also challenging. Due to the amount of concrete that needed to be poured, the structure had to be erected before installing the copper pipe. The schedule required Feddon Mechanical to start the installation on the top floor and work down, with the interior underground being the last work performed.

According to Stark, there were advantages to using this type of press system.

“The advantages were no need for a torch, so the risk of an accidental fire is eliminated; the installation labor is significantly less, so a smaller crew can install the same amount of pipe or the same sized crew can install more pipe; the installers do not need to carry a torch, solder, flux, sand-cloth, etc., to the installation site; and it is relatively easy to train someone to properly install the product,” said Stark.

Besides protecting the artwork from water damage, controlling temperature and humidity in the museum is crucial too. The mechanical system, designed by TLC Engineering for Architecture, Tampa, Fla., and installed by Southern Equipment, Tampa, Fla., includes two Trane 170-ton water-cooled screw chillers piped in a variable flow arrangement, which feed all the Trane air handlers, and heat is produced via two natural gas-fired water heaters piped in a primary/secondary arrangement. There is also a backup generator, serving the atrium smoke exhaust system, life safety alarms and lighting, kitchen refrigeration equipment and art storage air conditioning equipment.

All together, there are seven air handling units, each one handling a different area of the museum: the gallery, offices, multipurpose room and theater, back of the building, museum store, library and vault.

“Humidity control is the most important thing when working on a museum,” said Albert LaPera, senior project manager at TLC Engineering for Architecture. “In the library we needed tight temperature and humidity control because of housing the books. We also needed tight humidity and control for the vault where artwork is kept and viewed.”

Sustainable strategies

Saving energy and water were paramount when designing the mechanical systems. TLC Engineering for Architecture oversaw the design of the domestic hot water system with electric-fired back-up and a solar water heating system.  All low-flow plumbing fixtures were installed by Alliance Plumbing, St. Petersburg, Fla., plus air conditioning condensate is recycled to decrease water usage.

“Using standard low-volume flush rate toilets/urinals (1.6-gpf/.5-gpf) and lavatory aerators (.5 GPM) as a basis of design, the museum will save approximately 30% in water usage with the low-flow plumbing fixtures (1.28-gpf, .5-gpf and .5 GPM) that are currently installed,” explained LaPera. “Actual GPD saved can be analyzed at a later date after the facility has been open and operating for a while.”

Water is also conserved by collecting all the condensate runoff from every air handler and fan coil and using it as makeup water for the cooling towers.

“This condensate collection system is projected to save about 750,000-gal. of water per year,” said LaPera. 

The solar thermal system, installed by SunQuest Energy, St. Petersburg, Fla., which functions as a virtual boiler for the dehumidification systems, is particularly unique.

“The owners wanted to do energy conservation measures for the building, and one of the things we looked at was solar thermal,” said LaPera. “It was decided to install 24 pool-type solar collectors, that are low temperature solar collectors piped to a 500-gal. storage tank, which is piped into the heating and hot water system as if it was a virtual boiler. What we did costs about $40,000 dollars.”