Janet Wallace Fine Arts Complex

Market Insight: Higher Education

7 min read


Leisbel Lam


Janet Wallace Fine Arts Complex

Macalester College | Janet Wallace Fine Arts Complex

From major universities to elementary schools, we have provided innovative design services to educational facilities for over 60 years. Optimally designed, these structures enhance the student experience, ease facility day-to-day functions, and engage the visiting public. Our teams have enhanced these learning environments through remodels and new ground-up buildings.

With over 14 years of experience in electrical building systems design, Higher Education Principal Leisbel Lam has worked on a wide variety of educational facilities. His project expertise ranges from technical lab spaces to student housing renovations. We asked Leisbel to share his unique industry insights into this market.

What is MCE’s experience in the higher education market?

Over the years, we have been involved in many projects within the private and public higher education market. We do most of our work within the private sector, specializing in central plan utilities design and MEP building systems design. Within the public sector, we’ve focused more on specialty type of projects like lab and teaching spaces.

University of Minnesota
St. Paul Academy & Summit School

What value does MCE bring to this market?

Our biggest value is our depth of knowledge from the entire MCE team.  Higher education facilities are complex and diverse. Projects range from residential facilities to research laboratories, to music halls.  We capitalize on our vast system design expertise across all markets to enhance each unique project we work on. Our team utilizes this incredible foundation of knowledge and specialty experiences to bring a myriad of design solutions. This flexibility allows us to solve client pain points under one roof.

What are the top priorities for these market clients and how has MCE delivered on these priorities?

The top priorities for higher education market clients are reliability and peace of mind. Simply stated, these building systems must work and should be easy to maintain. Each client has design expectations and priorities. We make sure we are following the owner’s standards through constant communication and collaboration. Alongside this, we stay informed on the latest design guidelines, energy codes, and technological innovations to ensure we are providing clients with the best possible solutions to achieve their objectives.

“Each client has design expectations and priorities. We make sure we are following the owner’s standards through constant communication and collaboration.”

What are the challenges of designing these spaces and how has MCE overcome these challenges?

The main challenge has been designing within existing structures, especially on the public side. It can be very challenging to remodel a space, reusing the same infrastructure, while having to meet new code standards.  A building that was up to date in 1960, will have to meet completely new standards once re-evaluated in the modern era. We overcome this through proactive communication, ensuring all stakeholders are looped in early, so the appropriate decisions can be made.

How does MCE provide a quality student experience through MEP design?

Our main goal with these projects is to make sure we follow the architectural guidelines. We ensure the systems are designed to operate congruently with the architect’s design concept and vision.  From that MEP perspective, we focus on the technical comfort of the space from airflow to lighting design. We pay attention to how the building operates, ensuring students have a seamless experience, unhindered from productivity.

Dunwoody College
University of Minnesota from outside

Our company has built many strong relationships with incredible clients. Why do they continue to choose to work with MCE?

I believe it’s because we are very consistent on project deliverables. Alongside this, we don’t give up on our projects. We design to our standards of excellence, and then stay active with the clients after the project is complete. Clients really appreciate our proactive communication and collaborative environment.

What does sustainability look like in this market?

Within new spaces, systems are taking a different turn when it comes to energy sources and the impact on mechanical and electrical systems design. We’re seeing more opens to electrified buildings, eliminating fossil fuels. These spaces are also becoming energy producers, with the integration of renewable energy technologies like photovoltaic (PV).

“Systems are taking a different turn when it comes to energy sources and the impact on mechanical and electrical systems design. We’re seeing more opens to electrified buildings, eliminating fossil fuels.”

Within existing buildings, from my electrical background, the biggest reduction in energy consumption comes through lighting design. We are seeing LED lighting technology being specified across the multiple project spectrums. The use of LED source fixtures with higher efficacy paired with smart lighting controls presents a unique opportunity to reduce the carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions within these existing infrastructures.

What does the future look like for this market?

The future of higher education will incorporate more interactive spaces; high-end lab spaces like in corporate R&D setting. These types of environments will push collaboration to the next level and will become more standard. There are new opportunities to create learning environments for students that are more dynamic. We can design hybrid spaces, allowing virtual and in-person collaboration. The new standards will be developed around this community mentality, creating opportunities for alumni and students to collaborate after college.

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