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Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library
The George Washington University

Washington, D.C.

General Contractor:  Donohoe Construction Company
Architect:  cox graae + spack (BH note: Company formats its name w/o initial caps and w/ + sign)
Engineer:  Potomac Energy Group Incorporated
Contract Amount:  $2,011,920
Start Date:  August 1, 2012
Completion Date:  August 1, 2013


The Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library is the main library of The George Washington University (GWU), located on its Foggy Bottom campus in downtown Washington, D.C. The seven-story library building contains over two million volumes. For most of the year, parts of the library are open 24/7 for use by students, faculty and staff.

Shapiro & Duncan’s scope of work on this one-year project was actually three jobs in one. The base contract was for gutting and renovating the library’s entire second floor, including all of the plumbing and HVAC work. This required furnishing and installing four new air handling units plus refurbishing one existing unit. On the second floor, we also had to add chilled beams, thermal variable air volume (VAV) diffusers, a sump pump with sewage ejector, and ductwork.

The other two jobs that were added to our scope of work were the addition of a new loading dock and replacement of the air handlers in the mechanical penthouse.

The biggest challenges presented by this project involved coordination and logistics. First and foremost, the second floor had to be renovated while the University library was operating 24/7.  This meant we had to work around the ongoing life of the university, getting into the building and doing the renovations on weekends and holidays when the fewest students, faculty and staff would be present. The logistical aspect of this project was also very challenging, because our team had to get materials to the site, set up cranes and position needed equipment and materials while the university was in session and student access and foot traffic was an issue.


Our logistical solution had to encompass both exterior and interior logistics. Outside, we were able to ensure smooth delivery and positioning of materials and equipment with street and sidewalk closures that were carefully coordinated with University staff.  Inside, notices were sent to students and staff keeping them informed about our construction schedule.  In the long run, to keeping this project on schedule required a tremendous amount of upfront planning and day-to-day coordination between the University, general contractor and trades.

The mechanical solution on the second floor was relatively straightforward to implement. In the first phase of the project, our building information modeling (BIM) team produced a BIM drawing of second floor interior renovation. Shapiro & Duncan’s 51,000 square foot fabrication shop in Landover, Maryland also played a key role by prefabbing the second floor hydronic piping system.  Again, a major key to our success was the intricate upfront coordination, preplanning and day to day coordination in the field to make sure everything happened on the second floor when it was supposed to happen, so that the library could keep operating with minimal disruptions.  For the most part, students and staff hardly even noticed that we were there.

Our work in the library penthouse was added to the original scope of work and issued as a change order.  Shapiro & Duncan’s engineering team came out to the site and measured and coordinated with vendors and subcontractors on replacement of four custom-built air handlers and replacement of one existing air handler. After field measuring, our BIM team drew the air handlers and also drew the piping. Then our fab shop put the piping together.

When it came to building the new air handlers in the penthouse, we had to deal with some unique logistical issues. Each 20,000 cfm air handler is eight feet wide, 10 feet tall and 20 feet long.  We had to finish building one air handler and have it online, running and tested and then before we could shut down and remove the next air handler we had to run temporary ductwork off the completed unit to take place of the nextunit to be demolished.  As soon as the temporary air supply was tied in, our team had to break the unit down in pieces and haul them out the side of building with a crane.

Our project team had five weeks, start to finish, to build each air handler. Each new unit was built in stages. First, the fan section was built and the motor dropped in. Then came the shell, followed by the interior coil and filter section. Once one unit was up and running, air had to be pulled from that unit to feed the newly installed ductwork and tap air from the new unit to the library’s seven floors below.


Not only was this project completed on time and on budget, which certainly pleased the customer, but we succeeded in coordinating all aspects of the library renovation project without having to shut the building down. In fact, we were barely seen at all by students and library staff. Avoiding disruptions to the users was a complex, detail-oriented job. Shapiro & Duncan’s foreman on this project, Key Sovidaray, deserves special accolades for his tremendous effort in maintaining communication and getting things done in an occupied building on a tight schedule. In the final analysis, GWU students were able to come to the library and get their work done. University life went on as if nothing had happened.