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New heating system at Northland Workforce Training Center fails to heat

The Northland Workforce Training Center has plenty of hot air. It's just not in the right places – and that put a definite chill in the East Side facility this winter.

The culprit: An apparent mistake in the design of the heating system, and it could cost the city agency overseeing the project nearly $500,000 to fix.

Here's the problem: The ceilings in the longtime former manufacturing facility are so high that the heat coming out of the duct work dissipates too much by the time it hits the floor.

Air comes out of the heating ducts at 100 degrees, but by the time the warm air sinks to floor level, it has cooled markedly. It was barely at 60 degrees – and sometimes as low as 50 – at the ground level. That made for chilly times for the more than 100 students, faculty and others who used the facility during the winter.

Officials of the Buffalo Urban Development Corp., which owns and manages the property at 583 Northland Ave., discovered the problem last fall, as soon as they fired up the boilers, according to a memo from BUDC President Peter M. Cammarata.

Contractors already took initial steps to fix the problems in February, at a cost of $46,145. But the rest of the modifications that are needed to permanently address the problem will total 10 times that amount, or about $460,000.

BUDC directors formally learned of the snafu on Tuesday. And while they retroactively approved the initial spend, they were not happy about the full potential risk to the agency.

"This sounds like an engineering or design flaw," said David Nasca, an agency director and also CEO of Evans Bancorp in Hamburg. "I’m not trying to poke at people, but that sounds like what it is, and I don’t think we should fund that, from the building standpoint."

Northland Corridor project

Cammarata said the design contractors on the project, Watts Architecture & Engineering and Rochester-based Popli Group, are consulting with their professional liability insurance carriers about the scope of any potential reimbursement, while BUDC notified its own insurer. But that could take months to sort out.

"We needed to spend on some of these fixes ... for us to move forward during heating season. So we took on that cost," Cammarata said. "How much of that cost will be reimbursed to us, I don’t know."

BUDC has already applied for some energy-efficiency grants and incentives from National Fuel Gas Co. for the boilers, but the other work may not be eligible.

Cammarata said officials knew they had a problem right away, because the boilers were running at full capacity, sending 180-degree water to the coils, while the dampers in the ducts were overridden to fully-open positions. Yet it wasn't working, because of the duct work design, according to Cammarata's memo.

Changes may also be needed for the cooling system, but "we won't understand those until we get into the cooling season," Cammarata told the board.

The problem affects only the half of the massive building where the training center is located. The other half of the building is being renovated as the new home of Buffalo Manufacturing Works, but that second phase of construction will have a "completely different mechanical room" and system, which is being designed by Watts alone, without Popli.

Indeed, the problem represents one of the few glitches to hit the state-funded Northland Corridor project, designed to transform a 35-acre zone of aging manufacturing properties into a new light industrial and training hub. The goal is to bring new jobs and investment to one of Buffalo's most impoverished neighborhoods. The project is anchored by the 80,000-square-foot Workforce Training Center, which opened in September for its first classes.

BUDC also approved:

• $991,097 to renovate a 9,505-square-foot shed adjoining the main building, creating additional training space for the electrical program that SUNY-Alfred State is teaching. BUDC also authorized spending $87,281 on more equipment for the new labs.

• $63,240 on site design for Albright-Knox Art Gallery to occupy a 15,000-square-foot building at 612 Northland for a public art initiative on the East Side, while it closes its main Elmwood Avenue campus for two years during a $150 million expansion project. The museum will lease it for three years, with an option for two more.

• $576,724 to turn a 5,300-square-foot building next to 683 Northland into a new entrepreneurial center, which was originally destined for 612 Northland.

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