Van Boerum & Frank Associates Inc.
- Written by: Tom Faunce
- Produced by: Brandon Bagley
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
After more than 44 years in business, Van Boerum & Frank Associates Inc. (VBFA) is recognized as one of the pre-eminent consulting-engineering firms in the Intermountain West, providing mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection and civil engineering services. Headquartered in Salt Lake City, VBFA has grown to 16 principals and more than 100 employees throughout four regional offices in Utah and Arizona.
Founded in 1972 by Howard Van Boerum, VBFA began as Van Boerum Associates and stems from a passion for drawing that Van Boerum discovered at a young age. This talent led him to his first professional job as a draftsman at a civil engineering firm, where he honed his skills while pursuing his professional engineering (P.E.) license in 1967.
Van Boerum officially opened the doors of his business with a staff of three and focused on mechanical engineering. Within a year, he hired his first full-time engineer, John D. Frank, a graduate of the University of Utah. Frank had gained experience by working in his father’s sheet metal company and was adept with HVAC ductwork systems. Frank became a partner in the firm after earning his P.E. license in 1976 and the firm changed its name to Van Boerum & Frank Associates Inc.
A history of sustainability
VBFA maintains sustainable business practices by utilizing design approaches that are environmentally responsible, contribute to the comfort, well-being and health of the occupants and are energy efficient. With a commitment to achieving these goals, VBFA examines the life-cycle cost implications of alternatives to provide the owner with accurate information. In conjunction with input from all project stakeholders, the firm is able to make educated decisions regarding the best avenues for investing project budgets and achieving the desired goal.
“To us, sustainability is all about reducing the impact on resources and using them responsibly,” says Spencer Howell, associate mechanical engineer for VBFA. “The goal is to extend the longevity of the resources we have available.”
Before energy efficiency became a household term in the construction industry, Van Boerum was completing energy-efficient designs. With its involvement in the design of the Utah Olympic Oval, constructed for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games and designed by firm vice president Richard Reeder, VBFA was part of the first LEED project in the state of Utah, under the LEED pilot. “We don’t separate sustainability from excellent design,” says Howell. “We like to keep our designs practical, which can be a real fine balancing act.”
Working in multiple sectors that include education, health care, municipal, industrial and commercial, VBFA is presented with opportunities to be involved in progressive and revolutionary projects. The firm recently completely a project with Odyssey Elementary School in Woods Cross, Utah, which is the state’s first Net Zero school building. This ground-source heat-pump facility produces as much energy as it consumes via an array of 1,100 photovoltaic panels. “What was great about this project was that the client trusted us to make it work,” says Lori Haglund, marketing director for VBFA. “They were willing to do what was necessary in order to make it successful.” With its sustainable aspects, not including the PV array, Odyssey had comparable construction costs to other conventional schools in the district.
With the shift that Salt Lake City experiences between hot and cold seasons, one of the biggest challenges that VBFA is faced with in sustainable design is adjusting for both. “Heating always becomes more difficult when you’re aiming for Net Zero because natural gas is not a renewable resource,” Howell explains. “When you go from natural gas to electric heat you are looking at a price increase of approximately 200 to 300 percent. Our approach is to make that cost feasible.” With a staff of approximately 120, VBFA maintains the ability to self-perform the entirety of its work. The company is also able to provide in-house commissioning on its projects.
With the unique work that VBFA has become known for, many engineering graduates directly out of school are not completely familiar with the approach the team utilizes. This has prompted the company to establish what it calls VBFA University, a training program for newly hired engineers. Howell and other VBFA engineers meet with the new hires twice a month to discuss topics and develop the next generation of engineers.
Looking into the near future, the firm will maintain its position as a leader in both the industry and sustainability practices. With more owners expressing interest in Net Zero capabilities, Van Boerum and Frank Associates Inc. will continue to expand upon its knowledge and experience to delve into energy auditing, expanding commissioning and increasing the presence of its electrical department.
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