Back in July 2000 the W.T. Heaney Co. of Southfield, Mich., had an interesting challenge - install a 90-ton Trane chiller into a nationally registered historic site, where exterior and interior aesthetics were almost as important as technical considerations.

The historic site is the National Shrine of the Little Flower, in Royal Oak, Mich. What did the company encounter when asked to install the first ever air conditioning in the world-famous landmark?

"For one thing, you have to work with documents signed by Father Coughlin in the 1930s," said David Charlton, president of Heaney, a member of the Association of Service and Mechanical Contractors (ASAM) of southeast Michigan.

There were practical matters like a beam which didn't show in the drawing - getting in the way of a chilled water run - and the need to minimize aesthetic impact, internally and externally. The historical aspect of the job posed procedural problems. Notice of commencement required proof of ownership of a world-famous church, so the Archdiocese of Detroit needed to provide a legal description of the property and documents signed by internationally known Father Coughlin.

According to Charlton, local utility Detroit Edison was unhappy with the fact that the Shrine had its primary transformer in-house and was unwilling to extend the existing service to permit installation of the 90-ton Trane air-cooled helical water chiller. A separate primary had to be installed unobtrusively outside.

The Shrine job was years in coming. W.T. Heaney had previously bid on 1992 specs developed by D.G. Scripture Engineering Co. The original plans called for three condensing units, one for the main church and two for the chapel. They were to be located directly outside the church.

Charlton explained that the units would be an eyesore, would project noise which would be heard inside and would pose service and control problems associated with long refrigerant runs.

He converted the installation to chilled water and located the chiller almost completely out of sight of the three roads which flank the church. With underground piping entering the structure in a shrub shaded corner and some modified landscaping, the entire outdoor installation was almost invisible.

Inside the Shrine, Heaney's crew encountered such complications as life-sized statues and old school desks stored in the return air ducts, a beam in the way of glycol piping in the ceiling over the Youth Room, thick walls and supply and return grilles so close together that airflow was short-circuited.

There was the added factor that workers had to cooperate with the church to do only quiet work during services.

"It was a big plus to find that the ventilation system installed in the 1930s had adequate runs of tunnels and ducts and a fan with enough cfm to handle the air conditioning load," added Charlton.

The church with its pioneering altar-in-the-round seats 3,000 people. The main church and the chapel are controlled so they can be cooled separately or simultaneously.

Controls are set to handle the standard schedule of services, and priests chose to have the control panels located in a closet in their quarters so they can easily take care of the off-schedule events like weddings and funerals.

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Publication date: 01/26/2004