In early 2019, Athena Engineering, Inc., DMG Corporation, and M. Weber & Associates, combined their extensive experience to work together on a transformative project for the historic Wilshire Ebell Theatre. As the design-builder on the team, we had the honor of guiding the project to completion on this amazing, historic jewel in the heart of Los Angeles. The project utilized a best in class LG VRF system combined with the Schneider EcoStruxure platform to maximize efficiency and cooling for the 1,238 seat theatre. In August of 2019, the project was featured by LG in a video white paper and will be featured at the 2020 AHR Expo in Orlando, FL next week. It is the largest LG Air Handler project done in North America.
About the Ebell of Los Angeles
The Ebell of Los Angeles, founded in 1894 by women for women, is one of the oldest and largest women’s clubs in the United States. It was created to bring education and arts to women at a time when education was not accessible to most women and still achieves its vision today by hosting community, cultural, and social events that inspire and educate. The Club has hosted various women of note including Judy Garland (who was “discovered” on the Wilshire Ebell Theatre Stage ), Amelia Earhart, the last Queen of Romania, and recently, Michelle Obama. The spectacular renaissance revival Clubhouse and Theatre, which are connected to each other, were designed by renowned architect, Sumner Hunt , and constructed in 1927. In total, the Clubhouse and Theatre cover 83,000 square feet and the Wilshire Ebell Theatre has over 1200 seats. The Clubhouse and Theatre were entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.
The problems faced by the Ebell of Los Angeles’ management was centered around the mechanical equipment serving the Wilshire Ebell Theatre and a small dining room. The system was served by a water-cooled chiller, cooling tower, and boilers, which provided cooling and heating to separate air handlers for each space. The system was not able to handle the cooling needs of both rooms simultaneously.For the sake of comfort, the facility team had to leave a room vacant to adequately cool the other and lose any potential operational income for the space left vacant. Further complicating the project, the site is a historic building, so all installations of the necessary equipment had to follow set guidelines and preserve the history, overall look, and feel of the Theatre and dining area interior.
This was compounded by a lack of insight into the system. The Ebell had to manually turn a timer to turn on their air handling equipment and had to run the equipment full-blast to achieve cooling. The lack of a building automation system that gave basic data about temperature, equipment, and maintenance also made it difficult to manage stage productions.
To say we were thrilled, as a woman-owned business, to work with an organization that helped women achieve parity, is an understatement. The honor was truly ours. Working with M. Weber and DMG, we were the design-builder on the project and self-performed the HVAC and building automation installation. The team specified and installed a new LG Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) air-cooled heating/cooling system paired with a custom air handler that utilized the existing ductwork. This new design allowed for independent operation of the two spaces, very high operational turndown for energy efficiency, and eventual re-utilization of the indoor space that previously held the old cooling and heating equipment.
The new equipment was controlled by a Schneider Electric EcoStruxure user interface, installed and programmed by the Athena Engineering controls team. We made sure to model the front-end off the existing set-up – a big button for on and off. This gave the theatre team simple control and feedback for the system so they could worry about their stage production, not the cooling.
Some interesting technical notes:
- Custom coil design by DMG and LG allowed for multiple coils to be used within an air handler. This allowed the team to pick air handlers with heating and cooling capacities greater than 42 tons, while still allowing each separate LG VRF system to experience the full airflow of the air handler. This also created a great deal of flexibility in the turndown and staging of the heating/cooling equipment to meet the demands of the space, while maximizing energy efficiency.
- We worked with DMG and LG to find a way to provide the client with a solution that would provide communication to the system, give the facilities team remote troubleshooting for the LG VRF condensing units and to receive all the information from the front end.
- Sensors located in the spaces utilize battery powered operation and Zigbee wireless to prevent any necessary wiring, damage, or visual distractions in the historic spaces. Compatibility with zigbee devices allowed for easier installation and eliminated the need for communication wires to the controllers, minimizing potential damage to the historic site