The National Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak, Mich., outside Detroit.


What do you encounter when you install the first air-conditioning in the world-famous National Shrine of the Little Flower, in Royal Oak, Mich.?

The historical aspect of the job posed procedural problems. Notice of commencement required proof of ownership of a world-famous church, so the Archdiocese of Detroit needed to provide legal description of the property and documents signed by internationally-known Father Charles E. Coughlin. A simple thing like proving ownership meant "(We had) to work with documents signed by Father Coughlin in the 1930s," says David Charlton, president of W. T. Heaney Company.

Other practical matters included a beam which didn't show in the drawing getting in the way of a chilled water run, and the need to minimize aesthetic impact - internally and externally - on a structure which is registered as a national historic site.

Detroit Edison was unsatisfied with the fact that the Shrine had its primary transformer in-house and was unwilling to extend the existing service to permit installation of the 90-ton Trane air-cooled helical water chiller. A separate primary had to be installed unobtrusively outside.

The Shrine job was years in coming. W.T. Heaney, a member of the Association of Service & Mechanical Contractors (ASAM) of Southeast Michigan, had previously bid on 1992 specs developed by D.G. Scripture Engineering Company.

The original plans called for three condensing units, one for the main church and two for the chapel. They were to be located directly outside the church.

Charlton explained to Jerry Bixman, representing the National Shrine of the Little Flower, that the units would be an eyesore, would project noise which would be heard inside, and would pose service and control problems associated with long refrigerant runs.

The chiller is located behind the Charles E. Coughlin building.

Out of sight

He converted the installation to chilled water and placed the chiller almost completely out of sight of the three roads which flank the church. With underground piping entering the structure in a shrub shaded corner and some modified landscaping, the entire outdoor installation is almost invisible.

Inside the Shrine, Heaney's crew encountered such complications as life-sized statues and old school desks stored in the return air ducts; a wooden beam in the way of glycol piping in the ceiling over the Youth Room; thick walls, and supply and return grilles so close together that airflow was short-circuited.

There was the added factor that workers had to cooperate with the church to do only quiet work during services.

"It was a big plus," Charlton says, "to find that the ventilation system installed in the 1930s has adequate runs of tunnels and ducts and a fan with enough cfm to handle the air conditioning load."

The church with its pioneering altar-in-the-round will seat 3,000. The main church and the chapel are controlled so they can be cooled separately or simultaneously.

Controls are set to handle the standard schedule of services, and "The priests chose to have the control panels located in a closet in their quarters," so they can easily take care of the off-schedule events like weddings and funerals.

In an attempt to return the chapel to its original decor, the Shrine is in search of the original grilles used in the chapel. Lacking that, W.T. Heaney Company is investigating the possibility of re-creating the two historic grilles.

The Team:

Mechanical Contractor - W. T. Heaney Co.

Controls - Service Control Inc.

Electrical - Center Line Electric Inc.

Sheet Metal - Forced Air Systems

Insulation - Mechanical Heat & Frost

Excavation - R. G. Bills Contractors