Hallberg Engineering, Inc. (HEI) in White Bear Lake, MN has provided design engineering services for commercial, institutional and retail buildings for more than 40 years, since 1979.
HEI’s commissioning department was established in 1998 as a result of Joe Hallberg’s (HEI principal) and Kyle Simonson’s (HEI engineer) participation with a team of advisory experts on K-12 facilities that developed and authored the 1999 publication, Minnesota Department of Education School Facility Commissioning Guidelines.
That document, among the first of its kind as a state statute, required that “prior to occupying the new or renovated facility, a system inspector must verify that the facility's heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system has been installed and operates according to design specifications.” Verification documents must be submitted to AHJs and school/regulatory officials.
Thus, one of the first state-mandated commissioning programs was born and, to a significant extent, executed by HEI. Now led by Rick Lucio, CEO, HEI is certified as a Small and Minority Business Enterprise (S/MBE) with the State of MN, University of MN, City of Minneapolis, MN Department of Transportation, Metropolitan Airport Commission, Metropolitan Council, Hennepin County, Ramsey County, and City of St. Paul.
How a Phone Call Led to a Booming Company Division
In 1998, HEI received a phone call from a Minnesota School superintendent asking for expertise to validate their HVAC and temperature controls installation on a new school project. The superintendent was not pleased with the outcome of a previous construction project (which led to a multitude of control issues), and contacted HEI to commission the systems – thus, a new division in HEI took root.
That was only the beginning for HEI.
The HEI Commissioning Department has grown to serve other sectors including: Healthcare, Higher Education, Government, Corporate and Nationwide Retail. Commissioning services include new construction, existing building and ongoing commissioning; compliance with LEED®, Passive House (Passivhaus), and WELL Building rating systems; along with Minnesota Sustainable Building Guidelines (B3), Army National Guard Military Construction Program, and ASHRAE commissioning requirements.
HEI’s mechanical and electrical engineering full range of design services include pre-design studies, energy usage simulation, schematic planning and budgeting, design development, construction documents, and comprehensive construction administration, along with post-occupancy evaluation. Their portfolio includes commissioning and utility tracking of mechanical and electrical systems for hundreds of buildings including K–12 schools, higher education, retail, commercial, military, government and private industry facilities.
HEI takes pride in forward-looking projects. They performed commissioning services for the 428 Building in St. Paul, MN, originally built in 1955, a historically significant facility known as the Woolworth Building, now described as “a progressive professional space that leaps into the future while honoring its past as the long-time location of F. W. Woolworth Co. department store.” The original building was state-of-the-art with air conditioning and escalators, consisting of three floors plus a lower level. This iconic brand and store that contributed to the economic vitality of downtown St. Paul for decades closed its doors in 1994. The building sat vacant until 2015 when HFS Properties took control of the site and started redevelopment plans. In 2017, construction began and was completed in 2018. HEI’s commissioning team participated in making “The 428” Minnesota’s first building to be awarded both LEED Silver certification and WELL Building Core & Shell certification.
Initial BCxA Engagement
Hallberg Engineering joined the Building Commissioning Association (BCxA) in 2002. CEO/Principal, Rick Lucio, has attended several BCxA annual conferences, and says, “By attending the conferences, I was inspired by the many commissioning professionals throughout the nation that run into the same field issues that we also encounter on a daily basis and they have the ability to resolve them correctly. Ultimately, our commissioning providers are at that center of a project team pulling everyone together to deliver a fully functional building.”
From the start of the pandemic, Hallberg Engineering was considered an Essential Business in the State of Minnesota. At jobsites, we adhered to the requirements of the Construction Manager. At first most of the construction and Owners’ meetings were virtual, and now most are in person in the State of Minnesota. HEI successfully started and completed commissioning projects through the pandemic.
The Future of Cx –It’s Not a Commodity
We market ourselves to building Owners as a third-party commissioning provider and consultant with 23 years of experience in the field. In spite of our reputation and history of successful project commissioning, in the RFP process we – like other CxPs – are compared and evaluated to another firm with less than five years of experience, when the low bid is taken.
Rick’s advice: “Stay the course with marketing yourself for your value and experience, and not low fees. In the end, the building Owner will not get what they expect when hiring a consultant with the low fee.”
The Next Generation
Rick has a few recommendations for new entrants to the commissioning profession:
- Always listen first.
- Have and refine your ability to work with others.
- Experience in systems operation is key. The building Owner is relying on you for your expertise and knowledge.
- Do review, but don’t redesign. The Owner has contracted with smart designers.
- Observe and state the facts.
- Be responsive.
- Commissioning a project can be a long process. Be patient.
Due to the experience of commissioning staff and the success of HEI projects, they are listed as a preferred vendor throughout the state of Minnesota. They have established great relationships with stakeholders in the building community – Owners, architects, construction managers and all kinds of subcontractors.
According to Rick, “The Twin Cities area is large, geographically, but construction industry professionals are a tight knit group and everyone knows each other. So, it’s very important to have a reputation for responsiveness, quality work, team problem solving and especially ease of working with others. We take pride in this reputation which leads to our repeat business and new work for us.”
Rick shares this wisdom, “We (HEI and commissioning providers everywhere) are the Owner’s eyes on these projects. We work and coordinate with the designers and contractors to hand over a completely functional building at occupancy with no finger-pointing. We listen, we observe, we document and we coordinate to solve issues.”
Caption: Rick Lucio, CEO