PEORIA, ILL. — With a rich history dating to the mid 19th century, Peoria High School is commonly referred to as "Central" due to its location and to distinguish it from two other Peoria high schools. As the oldest continually running high school in Illinois, the four-story, nearly 300,000-sq.ft. building was built in 1916, with additions in 1961.

In winter 2011, district officials began planning an ambitious project that would add a new science wing and gymnasium/locker room to the nearly century-old facility. The scope of work also included replacing the entire steam heating system and adding ventilation and air conditioning.

‘Good bones’

According to Peoria Central Building Engineer Rick Powers, the investment in the building made sense since its “bones” are solid, it’s centrally located, and with the expansion, is able to meet future needs. “We hadn’t been updated since 1961 so it was time for some pretty considerable upgrades.”

The Peoria Public Building Commission and Peoria School District 150 hired the Farnsworth Group Inc., Normal, Ill., to handle the project’s design work. Farnsworth, an award-winning, nationwide firm, has earned a reputation for energy efficient, reliable, durable and successful building design.

One of the most challenging aspects of the project was that the entire job —including demolition, installation, and commissioning — needed to be completed during a school calendar summer. According to D. Edwin Lind, P.E., engineering manager with Farnsworth, the old steam system, including the old gas-fired steam boilers, piping, and terminal units, needed to be removed and the new system installed during the summer. The fall semester began the last week of August.

The project called for miles of piping and the original specifications included black steel and copper for the smaller diameter piping to be located in the chases. Lind explained that although threaded fittings could be used to eliminate the need for welding torches in the aged facility, the weight of the black steel was going to make the installation challenging in tight spaces.

“The copper tubing, albeit lighter, required an open torch for soldering joints,” said Lind. “After the piping was installed in the chases and tested, the greatest concern was repairing or replacing leaking joints.”

Right product, right time

Coincidentally, The Pipco Companies Ltd., (PIPCO) had recently become an approved installer of the German-manufactured Aquatherm polypropylene-random pipe (PP-R), and proposed using the relatively new-to-North America option. PIPCO won the mechanical contracting bid on the job for installation of the heat pump loop water piping in the building’s existing vertical chases.

Established in 1958, PIPCO is a full-service contracting firm with expertise covering M/E/P and a huge range of construction services. The second generation, Peoria-based company is one of the most complete performance contractors in downstate Illinois, and is known for providing high quality, cost-effective solutions.

PIPCO Executive Vice President Greg Cicciarelli explained that Aquatherm’s local distributor, Columbia Pipe & Supply Co., had presented the PP-R pipe system to PIPCO roughly a year earlier. “We looked at the product at that time but we didn’t have anything we could use it on then. We liked it, but needed the right opportunity and Peoria was the right project for our use.”

Despite Aquatherm not being in the specification, PIPCO was able to bring the heat-fused pipe system onto the job through value engineering. “The owner made the decision to use Aquatherm because of the value engineering cost savings that could be realized and because of the warranty associated with the product,” Cicciarelli said.

“The fusion bonding of Aquatherm eliminated potential problems with the pipe leaking once it was sealed up in the chases, and the piping itself was lightweight,” Lind explained.

While Lind and his associates initially had concerns about the joining process of the piping, expansion factors, pressure ratings and temperature ratings, he recalled that all of these were adequately addressed by the manufacturer’s representative, Skip Newton with PVF Solutions, and the contractor.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article, which will cover how safety played a part in deciding to go with Aquatherm, the training the journeymen took, and also how the construction crew dealt with such a tight deadline.