Mayo Clinic - Richard O. Jacobson Building

For the construction team erecting the Richard O. Jacobson Building for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., it’s been a unique opportunity to construct a rare facility supporting the war against cancer.

“This is a phenomenal project to be on,” says Karl Corrigan, Mayo Clinic project manager. “Everybody would say that. Whether it’s the building construction manager Gilbane Knutson, equipment installer Boldt Construction or equipment vendor Hitachi – it’s really a once-in-a-lifetime project.”

Proton beam therapy is a targeted and precise way of administering radiation therapy to cancer patients. It allows for delivery of high doses of radiation to tumors while minimizing the damage to surrounding healthy tissue and organs. 

Proton Power

The technology stems from theoretical physics. In an attempt to understand the nature of matter and origin of the universe, physicists created massive proton colliders to smash apart protons traveling at near the speed of light and discover what’s inside them. This same collider-type machine was then applied to the war against cancer.

This is the 12th proton beam center in the nation. The Mayo Clinic is also constructing another one in Phoenix. 

The facility in Rochester will be housed in a fairly large building, Corrigan says, with 120-ton accelerator gantries for precise radiation delivery and sizable equipment attached to the building itself.

The massive proton collider takes up much of the building space but is constructed so it won’t be visible to patients in their treatment rooms. The facility will have the capacity to treat 1,250 patients per year, focusing on pediatric and young adult patients. It will open in mid-2015.

Big Concrete Pour

The four-story building encompasses one city block with a 70,000-square-foot footprint in the 212,000-square-foot facility. Crews broke ground in September 2011. 

The building is dense. For the base area of the treatment rooms, crews conducted the largest concrete pour in Rochester history with 600 concrete trucks pouring 5,400 yards of concrete in 24 hours of non-stop pouring. The accelerator and gantries were entombed in concrete and “it was a significant challenge with custom concrete mix designs, temperature monitoring throughout the 8-foot-thick, 20-foot-tall slabs and attention to every detail in the field all went into delivering a vault system that had to be within 10 mm of tolerance for the entire facility,” Corrigan says.

Construction never happens in a vacuum. In this case, the construction project is occurring on a relatively small parcel adjacent to an active 350-bed hospital site with patients coming and going across the medical campus.

“It can be a real challenge to conduct large construction in tight constraints,” Corrigan says.  A detailed safety plan that is constantly reviewed and monitored helped provide a safe environment for hundreds of contractors on site and thousands of staff and patients that move around the site daily.

Another challenge for the project is the urgency to bring the project online as quickly as possible. There are many cancer patients that could benefit from this treatment today and that fact is not lost on workers, he says.  All the contractors know friends and loved ones that are going through or have gone through cancer treatment.

“Everyone realizes what they are building is something that is going to save lives so that makes everyone work together with an unbelievable focus on quality and speed,” he says.

Also, the equipment is enormous, A 300-ton crane had just departed the construction site in October as 50 to 75 electricians worked onsite daily to install the miles of wire needed to coordinate the magnets that accelerate and deliver the protons at 6/10 the speed of light to within a millimeter of accuracy. The collider encompasses a full third of the site. Given that, much planning was required to coordinate with the equipment vendor, Hitachi, based in Japan and the construction team.

As the center takes shape, it is clear “the design architects, AECOM did a nice job planning and designing,” he says. This is particularly clear in the detailed work flow in the center that allows patients to smoothly get in and out of the building and to and from other places.

The building has been designed to allow for a future expansion of up to 17 stories, which necessitated some unique design challenges particularly with regard to utilities. Those utilities travel from central utility plants in underground utility tunnels.  They include a 24-inch steam line, 24-inch chilled water lines, medical gases and electrical service from two sources to minimize any disruption to patient treatment.

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