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2014 Building Engineer of the Year Brian O’Kane

Brian O'Kane, Chief Engineer with Able Engineering at John C. Kluczynski Building/230 South Dearborn and United States Post Office/211 South Clark, was the recipient of the 2014 Gold Circle Awards Building Engineer of the Year.

Tell us about your involvement in the commercial real estate industry and Local 399.
I have been a Local 399 member since 1995 and have worked my way up through the years from an apprentice engineer to a chief engineer with Able Engineering. During my career I have worked in a variety of settings, including an office building, hotel, airport and now in a Federal building. I also am an adjunct professor for Local 399 Union/Triton College.

Tell us about a recent capital improvement project you played a large role in and its impact on your tenants.  I had the pleasure of assisting the General Services Administration (GSA) in a very large project in the two buildings where I serve as the chief engineer. Not only were all the restrooms in the John C. Kluczynski (JCK) building remodeled, all the air handlers and perimeter units were also replaced. On top of that, we had a fire pump and fire control upgrade. Once completed, we saw a significant reduction in water and energy costs. The tenants enjoy the new restrooms and a more accurate heating and cooling system. What's your advice for others who may be starting a similar project? My advice to anyone starting a capital improvement project is to document everything directly and indirectly impacted by construction including pictures and screen shots of the building's BAS system. With so much happening at one time, it’s imperative to the client and the success of the project that nothing gets missed.

What are some trends you’re seeing that impact you the most? One area that's been around for years and picking up attention more recently is the movement to go green in commercial settings. As a LEED Accredited Professional in Building Operations and Maintenance, I believe that not only does this help our planet, it also has the added benefit of great energy cost savings in the daily operations of commercial buildings.

Tell us about some of the unique systems in your building and how they help you operate your building. At the JCK Building, we have a heat recovery system that works off our condenser loop. In short, it takes the heat that the air conditioning unit puts into the condenser loop and helps heat the building or takes the humidification out in the summertime. The return pipe to the cooling tower first passes through a supply fan coil and with the help of a pump it pre-heats the air passing through the fan. In the winter it helps heat the air and in the summer it takes the humidity out of the air so it feels cooler. The cooling tower fan works less because some heat is taken away from the condenser water. Another way it saves energy is by reducing the need for the heating system since it is pulling heat from the condenser loop.

What are some of your interests and hobbies outside of work? When I have free time I like to fish, it’s relaxing and I enjoy it. Now if you ask my wife she will say buying plastic baits and lures is my real hobbyI have 3 young kids so until they get a little older and can fish with me, my time at the lake is sparse!

What is your “pet peeve”? Being late. Not only is it inconsiderate, it shows a lack of respect for the job and people we work with. Being late can be easily avoided by planning ahead, aside from unforeseen issues.

What was the best advice you have received? Keep a positive attitude because everything happens for a reason. Just like everyone else, I have had situations not go my way, but usually I find out it was for the best. It's important to learn from these life lessons and improve going forward.