BIG RAPIDS, Mich. — In the last few years, Ferris State University has had a lot to boast about. Not only is the university one of the only schools in the United States to offer a bachelor’s degree in HVACR engineering technology, it also offers the degree online.

For those students who elect to stay on campus, the university is constructing a new building that will house the HVACR department, as well as the Construction Technology and Management department.

According to Mike Feutz, department chair for Ferris’s HVACR program, the new building is expanding from about 21,000 to 75,000 square feet. Of that, more than 50,000 square feet are dedicated to HVACR. This will include faculty offices, four classrooms, and most importantly, a large amount of lab space, which will feature a variety of equipment from a number of manufacturers.

The project has been in the planning stages for over a decade. Feutz said that the new building is scheduled to be completed by December 2003. He also said that the new lab would not have been possible without the ongoing support and dedication of many manufacturers and industry associations.

State-Of-The-Art Lab

When the university started formal efforts to fund the new building back in 1998, industry played an important role. Several organizations and contractors in Michigan and across the country helped in writing letters to the state of Michigan for funding.

It took two years for Ferris to secure the money for the project. Individuals from the Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Institute (ARI), the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA), the United Association (UA), the Northamerican Heating, Refrigeration & Airconditioning Wholesalers (NHRAW), and several other organizations made achieving the goal possible.

Then Ferris State turned to industry again, to make sure that what goes into the lab is the best it can be.

Feutz said that approximately 60 different manufacturers will be represented in the lab when the building is officially completed. “If students want a lot of diverse equipment to work on and learn about, this is the place to come.”

He explained that the main system in the building will consist of three air handlers supplying air to VAV duct systems. VAV boxes will include reheat coils for supplemental heat and humidity control. The lab spaces are also heated by in floor radiant heat.

The building’s mechanical room will be centrally located, adjacent to the main entrance. This will allow students and guests in the building to view the equipment through a glass wall when they enter.

Feutz said that the first floor of the building will contain the chiller and all pumping and piping. The second floor contains the air handlers, return fans, and ducting. This equipment will also be visible from the inside through open corridors and glass walls.

The new space will also include an energy lab, which will consist of a chiller, cooling tower, boiler, VAV air handler with inlet vanes and variable-frequency drives (VFDs) for air volume control, and dual-duct air handler. Feutz said the system will incorporate a two-pipe direct- and reverse-return piping system, a three-pipe system, an open-loop cooling tower circuit, and series and parallel pumping arrangements.

The VAV system will include eight VAV boxes located in zones throughout the HVAC labs. “It can also be configured as a constant-volume system, allowing students to perform proportional balancing on an eight-zone system with 18 diffusers,” said Feutz.

Besides the energy lab, there will be five other dedicated labs in the building. The basic air conditioning and refrigeration lab will include 10 work stations with equipment, the gas heating lab will include connections and space for 34 pieces of gas heating equipment, the oil heating lab will permit space for 34 pieces of oil heating equipment, the commercial refrigeration lab will permit space for 47 pieces of equipment, and the air conditioning lab will provide connections for 34 pieces of equipment.

The building will also include a direct digital controls lab, which will be equipped with Johnson Controls Metasys® equipment at 10 stations networked together. Feutz explained that this gives students the opportunity to learn the most basic to the most advanced controls technology.

Searching For Help

Finding all of the equipment that would give Ferris students a well-rounded hands-on education was not easy. “It’s been a major, major effort on the part of a lot of people,” said Feutz.

Feutz explained that he and representatives from the school contacted and visited several individuals, manufacturers, and associations. “It took lots of phone calls and road trips,” he said.

The process of acquiring equipment donations started at the 2001 Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration (AHR) Expo, which was held in Atlanta. Feutz spoke with several manufacturers and association representatives at the expo and even held a meeting in Atlanta with Ferris’s president to explain to the manufacturers what they were looking for and why it would be a benefit for them to participate.

The work didn’t stop there. It took several other trips across the country to meet one on one with manufacturers.

Over time, Ferris was able to persuade several manufacturers to contribute equipment for the lab. For example, McQuay International donated 14 new Enfinity™ horizontal water-source heat pumps for a ground-loop geo-thermal heating-cooling system.

“Geothermal systems are integral to energy-efficient cooling and heating, and they are an important part of our curriculum,” said Feutz. “In fact, our students have won first place in the ASHRAE Student Design Project Competition using geothermal design and technology for the past three years. So we are especially excited to receive McQuay’s donation; the water-source heat pumps will be a valued addition to our program for on-site observation.”

Other donations include humidification equipment from Armstrong, two VFDs for the geothermal loop from Rockwell Automation, three fans from Michigan Air Products, and a Spirovent air eliminator provided by Spirotherm.

ITT Bell & Gossett, through RL Deppman Co., was able to donate pumps for the building, and Raley Brothers in Grand Rapids, Mich., donated in-floor radiant heat.

Partial donations came in the form of a cooling tower from Baltimore Aircoil and a building automation system from Siemens Building Technologies.

The Importance Of Involvement

Another manufacturer who came through for Ferris State was Trane. The company gave a partial donation of a 200-ton dual-temperature chiller, three air handlers to service most of the building, and a rooftop unit with an enthalpy wheel to service the building’s auditorium.

Trane is one of many manufacturers who have had a long relationship with Ferris State, said Feutz.

Chris Comperchio, district manager for Trane’s western Michigan office in Grand Rapids, said that this local branch has worked with Ferris for more than 30 years. He explained that his office has hired graduates and interns from Ferris. In turn, Ferris has used Trane equipment in its lab.

“The university is a good customer of ours,” said Comperchio. “We have provided a lot of equipment in their facility.”

When it came time to help Ferris build its new lab space, it was only natural that Trane provide some assistance. Ed Schnaubelt, sales engineer for the manufacturer, has also worked closely with Ferris, helping to install systems and work with faculty from the HVACR department.

“They are very refreshing to work with,” Schnaubelt said. “They hold their HVAC department in high regard.”

The relationship between Trane and Ferris is beneficial on both sides. Ferris gets the equipment it needs and Trane has a connection to a future workforce. But the benefits do not end there.

Tom Mikulina, vice president of Industry Relations for Trane, believes that by working with HVACR programs across the country, the industry is guaranteed a steady workforce.

Mikulina has worked with several other members of ARI to ensure that qualified HVACR programs can continue to provide the industry with the labor it desperately needs. He cited recent government studies which suggest that by 2007, there will be a shortage of more than 200,000 HVACR workers. He also said that since the 1970s, enrollments in HVACR programs have dropped by almost 71 percent.

“Our industry is in competition with other industries for the talent,” said Mikulina. “If a vocational school has a qualified classroom, we will send what we can to help them.”

Trane’s motivations are not just to find more individuals to enter the industry. Mikulina also said that the manufacturer works with schools to keep current students on top of the changing technology.

Mikulina added that by playing an active role in educational institutions, manufacturers will have a more visible presence with students. These students will not only learn how to install the equipment better, but will remember the company after graduation when it comes to employment.

An Impact On Education

Behler-Young Company, a wholesale-distributor run by Doug Young, is also based in Grand Rapids, and has had a long relationship with Ferris State. “We’ve always looked to [Ferris] as a leading educational institution,” said Young.

The company was able to donate equipment to the new construction building at Ferris, including furnaces, ductless splits, accessories, and more.

One of the major benefits of being involved with Ferris, according to Young, is the opportunity to have an influence on program curricula. Behler-Young has had a representative on the Ferris advisory board for a number of years. The advisory board helps make sure that Ferris is giving its students the appropriate training.

“Ferris is very concerned about what they need to be teaching,” said Young.

He explained that Behler-Young, along with other companies, can communicate to Ferris what the school should be teaching and what courses should be added to better prepare students for the industry.

“The more they understand the needs in the real world, the better Ferris can fine-tune its program,” Young said.

Fred Ziffer, manager of field service operations for York International, agrees. According Feutz, Ziffer has been a huge supporter of education and the Ferris program.

York has contributed in many ways, including providing input on how the program can be continually improved to keep up with industry changes.

Ziffer said he and his company keep in touch with Ferris on a regular basis. He said that HVACR training programs need the guidance of industry, “otherwise they’re flying blind.”

Besides helping Ferris strengthen its program and curricula, Ziffer said that one of the most important things he and his company have given is moral support. Whenever he has an opportunity, Ziffer said that he lets Feutz know that he and the rest of the Ferris faculty are doing a great job.

Do It Yourself

Both Young and Ziffer recommend that others in the industry, especially contractors, get involved with their local vocational training program.

Young believes that interacting with the local HVACR training program can solve a lot of problems for contractors, including recruitment.

“Go out and meet with [the school],” said Young. “Talk to them about what their program is all about.”

He also suggests that contractors participate in school job fairs, offer co-ops, sit on advisory boards, and offer to let students go out on jobs to get a first-hand look at the field.

Ziffer believes that contractors should get involved in the same ways and suggests that by contributing to vocational schools, contractors will have greater access to new technicians.

He also said that by working with a local school, contractors can let instructors know what they need to be teaching their students. This enables contractors to find more qualified workers when hiring.

For more information on Ferris State University’s HVACR program, visit

Publication date: 01/27/2003