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U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

From Disrepair to Future-Forward:

Embracing the Opportunity amid the Curveballs in Historic Properties

The Shapiro & Duncan-U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Project



  • Historic buildings bring unique elements. Partnering with an organization that knows how to navigate these jobs and has the track-record doing it is a critical element to a smooth and on-time/on-budget engagement.
  • Embracing the curveballs is essential to a successful project. The unexpected should be, in fact, expected. Understanding of the unforeseen aspects of a project that are bound to come up makes for a more productive and positive relationship between the contractor and organization, and often spurs new opportunities.
  • At Shapiro & Duncan, projects are more than just task orders. We understand the larger, long-term impacts of jobs we undertake, and we’re onboard with our clients every step of the way. We believe in making proactive recommendations and doing what is necessary to positively influence the future of our projects and/or properties.


The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory project arose from a decade-long relationship Shapiro & Duncan formed with construction contractor, RJ Washington.

The challenge involved a thorough renovation to modernize the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory’s existing chiller plant. The existing systems had fallen into disrepair, and the goal of the project was to restore top function and efficiency for the long-term.


  • The chiller plant is outside of the main building footprint, and security measures prevented the Shapiro & Duncan team from access to the larger 1923 building itself before and during the job. An additional challenge that arose as a result of these factors was when it came time to connect the new systems with the existing ones. Access and water quality issues had to be addressed to ensure the new system was operating as efficiently as possible.
  • Typically, Shapiro & Duncan begins a project with making a 3D model of the facility space and its key systems to plan the best approach to the challenges. In this case, due to security restrictions, 3D (or any) photography was not allowed, so the team had to make multiple visits and create hand drawings to achieve the goal.


To accomplish the task of modernizing the chiller plant at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Shapiro & Duncan began by demolishing and gutting the old HVAC and electrical mechanisms in the chiller plant area, and replaced them with new, modern systems and pumps.

At the beginning of the job, due to the poor, largely non-functional condition of the existing chiller plant, a temporary chiller had been hooked up to the old system.

To address the renovation and modernization needs of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory’s chiller room, the Shapiro & Duncan team:

  • Conducted an abatement of the existing systems prior to demolishing them to ensure the space was safe and prepared for the installation of the new systems.
  • Installed all new pipes in the chiller plant space to replace the old ones. The new system was then connected to the existing system infrastructure in the main building of the Naval Research Laboratory dating back to 1923.
  • Addressed pipe flaking issues, as well as low quality water causing ‘gunk’ accumulating in the new chillers and system, which threatened the efficiency of the new materials.
  • Prescribed improvements and new solutions to the property owner to ensure systems were repaired to run the way they should be.
  • Confronted unforeseen issues. During the project, a portion of the chiller plant roof needed urgent repair. Shapiro & Duncan then helped manage and coordinate a contractor to complete the necessary repair work.
  • Effectively managed the host of team members from several trades, including HVAC, electrical, Siemens (automation contractor), installation of steel supports, and insulators. This also required members of the Shapiro & Duncan team to coordinate background checks with base security measures to facilitate teams entering and leaving.


  • On-time and on-budget completion for the original scope. The chiller plant was successfully modernized to function more efficiently and cleanly.
  • More than checking off boxes on the task order. The team’s recommendation for the installation of a water filtration system was outside of the original project scope, but helped to set the stage for future renovations to the larger building.
  • Ability to go above and beyond to get the job done. S&D had to keep the existing building fed with a temporary chiller and manage the changeover of the new system. The team jumped in to troubleshoot at several points when running into issues with connecting the new system to the older and installing a new filtration system to ensure top function from the new systems.


Older properties bring their own unique challenges and unforeseen circumstances are bound to arise.

Contracting with an organization that brings experience working in these types of building in particular is an important best practice to ensuring a smooth job.

Contact Shapiro & Duncan to deliver their expertise on your next historic property project.