Barr & Barr – Amherst College New Science Center

Barr and BarrBarr & Barr’s Experience Helps Bring a New Science Center To Amherst College.
By Chris Kelsch

Even for long-standing universities known for their excellent liberal arts programs, there is no getting around the fact that STEM education is extremely important. Like other schools, Amherst College has seen its math and science curriculums grow tremendously in recent years. To meet this demand, Amherst enlisted Barr & Barr, a longtime partner with the university, to build its New Science Center. 

In July 2018, the school will open the four-story, 250,000-square-foot New Science Center with state-of-the-art teaching and research facilities. The center will include a science commons that will unite the five wings of the building. Barr and Barr info box 3

It will also include classrooms, teaching labs, a library, café and informal learning areas for students. In addition to the new building, improvements will be made to the infrastructure that serves the building as well as the Greenway Dorms. These upgrades include steam, chilled water, stormwater, sanitary sewer, electric and tele-data utilities. 

Modern Tools

Barr & Barr is a renowned firm celebrating its 90th anniversary with profound experience building in the Northeast. The Amherst students will not be the only ones using the latest science and technology – Barr & Barr utilized extensive building information modeling (BIM) throughout the project. 

Bill Aquadro, vice president of Barr & Barr, is serving as project executive and notes BIM’s importance. 

“We primarily used it to coordinate the routing of the mechanical systems,” Aquadro explains. “In laying out the systems in a 3-D environment, we were able to coordinate amongst ourselves as well as eliminate any and all conflicts in the field, particularly with different piping systems such as plumbing, electrical and HVAC.” Barr and Barr pic 2

Ben Hedges serves as BIM manager on the project and notes how crucial the BIM process was during coordination of the concrete structure. “We had a cast-in-place concrete superstructure with numerous structural constraints, including 1,900 tons of steel reinforcing,” Hedges explains. “There were limited opportunities for coring holes after the concrete was placed. It was absolutely critical to first build virtually in an effort to avoid costly errors in the field.”

Hedges also notes that BIM helped with subsurface coordination. “Two levels of the structure are actually below grade,” Hedges says. “Due to the presence of ground water and surface water runoff, an extensive underslab/perimeter and site drainage system was required.”

The system Hedges refers to was among a network of site utilities that interacted with the building’s foundation and required careful coordination. Using BIM, Aquadro and his team accurately modeled all of the surrounding site utilities and were able to identify problem areas prior to excavation and installation. The 3-D site utility model was used as a vehicle to communicate system routing and encouraged construction sequence pre-planning.

Mechanical Coordination

The mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) coordination and clash detection process took more than 12 months to complete. Throughout the various laboratories and faculty offices, there are numerous spatial constraints. 

The primary MEP risers are housed within the limits of concrete shear cores that span multiple levels. Hedges notes that BIM technology was utilized in an effort to determine the most efficient mechanical routing while encouraging MEP system pre-fabrication. 

After an extensive constructability analysis and consideration of all structural limitations, MEP risers were detailed as singular full-height racks. “BIM ultimately allowed us to prefabricate 60-foot mechanical risers,” Hedges says. “They were fabricated and assembled off-site and then delivered, pre-tested and pre-insulated.” Indeed, the racks were installed during off-hours when the project’s tower crane was available. 

Architectural Coordination

The new building is organized into five wings that resolve the massing into individual elements and that respect the overall character of the overall campus, Barr & Barr says. There are three “low energy” wings that define two courtyards and are integrated with activity along the greenway. There are also two four-story wings that contain “high-energy” research and teaching labs that maximize collaboration.

Barr and Barr pic 3During the spatial coordination process, “We worked very closely with the architect,” Hedges notes. “We wanted to make sure we could install as well as maintain those sensitive spaces.” Given the architectural complexities and transparent nature of the design, it was of utmost importance to model the building systems accurately. 

Working closely with the design team, Barr & Barr utilized BIM to ensure the subcontractors possessed the most accurate information and continued to maintain the design intent.

Trusted Builders

In Barr & Barr, Amherst selected a partner it has worked with before. And that is nothing new, as 85 percent of Barr & Barr’s business is from repeat clients. “We are not volume-driven, we are client-driven,” Aquadro says. 

Aquadro notes that it helps to have that previous experience with a client. “Certainly if you have worked with an owner before, it’s a benefit,” Aquadro says. 

Barr & Barr is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year.  The company is known for some of its earliest work at Rockefeller Center including: The Center Theatre, British Building, French Building, and the Time & Life Building.  It is an employee-owned company that spans three regions: New England, Mid Atlantic and the Southeast. 

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