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Puffins, sharks and sea lions determine engineer's success


Posted July 1, 2019


While designing the MEP and HVAC systems for the National Aquarium’s new Animal Care and Rescue Center (ACRC), Beau Whitney realized that the quality of his work would be assessed, in part, by the comfort level of a puffin.

Whitney, vice president of Kovacs, Whitney & Associates, Inc., had previously worked on an array of aquarium projects from small tank renovations to the engineering of the massive Black Tip Reef exhibit. But the transformation of a 57,000-square-foot former printing plant into a world-class animal medical care facility presented some striking challenges. 

In May, MDSPE members toured the ACRC to see how the completed project is

 enabling the National Aquarium to rescue and care for fish, birds, reptiles, 

marine mammals and other species.

“They have one of everything in there,” Whitney said, referring to both the animals and the systems to support them. 

The ACRC’s collection of tanks, which measure up to 40 feet in diameter, can provide fresh water or seawater environments with precisely controlled temperatures, oxygen levels and other conditions. It has quarantine areas, including a space specially designed for sea lions and seals, to isolate any pathogens from the facility. Another room must alternately satisfy heat-loving tropical birds and puffins who prefer the climate of the North Atlantic. Additionally, the building’s MEP and HVAC systems must support National Aquarium staff as they work in the animal care areas, offices, workshop and storage space. 

To accommodate all those needs, Kovacs, Whitney & Associates’ design for the ACRC included 11 separate HVAC systems, a large low-pressure compressed air system to support required oxygen levels in each tank, and supplies of heated water and chilled water that can be run through heat exchangers to adjust the temperature inside each tank. It included custom, 100-percent exhaust systems for the quarantine areas and the aquarium workshop (where staff work with fiberglass and other materials to create exhibits). It included back-up power generation to sustain the facility through outages and numerous energy conservation measures to contain the ACRC’s energy bills (and earn it LEED Silver rating). And in the tropical bird/puffin room, the design included two separate HVAC systems — a standard system to deliver the 78-degree environment preferred by tropical birds and lizards, and a system similar to those found in walk-in refrigerators to create the brisk 55-degree environment that puffins love.

“The project worked out really well,” Whitney said. “I have gone back over there several times and talked to the Supervisor of Animal Husbandry and she is pretty happy with that facility.”


Click here to view photos from MDSPE's tour of the ACRC. 








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