Manhattan Construction Group/Torcon Inc.

Working together in a joint-venture partnership, the Washington, D.C., office of Manhattan Construction Co. and Torcon Inc. of Red Bank, N.J., are making steady progress on the $510 million U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) project currently under way at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md. Groundbreaking occurred in August 2009, and construction is slated to be completed by November 2014. After a two- to three-year period of certifications and inspections, USAMRIID will open in 2016 or 2017.

The six-story, 940,000-square-foot biocontainment research facility will replace the existing USAMRIID facility. As the U.S. Department of Defense’s largest biocontainment facility, it will feature the latest in technology to research dangerous biological agents such as anthrax, the plague bacteria and the Ebola virus. “The mission of USAMRIID is to develop vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to protect war fighters against biological agents,” says Col. Gary Zaucha, program manager of the USAMRIID transition office.

Cutting-edge Facility

A defining feature of the new USAMRIID will be its bio-safety level (BSL) 2, 3 and 4 laboratories. Designed by joint-venture partners CUH2A – a subsidiary of Omaha, Neb.-based HDR Inc. – and Winnipeg, Manitoba-based Smith Carter, the facility will feature a multistory atrium separating the BSL2 areas from the BSL3 and BSL4 areas, which are reserved for the most lethal organisms. Researchers must wear protective suits and take extra precautions, such as showering and changing clothes, before leaving the facility.

The replacement facility was designed with operation and maintenance protocols in mind, Zaucha notes. “The new facility is broken down into 40 decontamination zones, which allows us to take down small sections of the building, decontaminate them and perform maintenance to those areas while the rest of the surrounding labs continue to operate,” he states. “This will minimize disruption to the research.”

Because researchers will perform product research and testing on animal models, a significant amount of space has been allotted for the care and housing of animals inhabiting the facility, says Caree Vander Linden, public affairs officer for USAMRIID. The Army will have cameras in the animal holding rooms that will supplement daily, in-person animal observations by allowing additional monitoring of experiments without having to enter or exit the containment areas. It also will install advanced imaging capabilities to perform MRIs and CT scans.

LEED Laboratory

Another unique feature of the USAMRIID replacement facility is its utilization of sustainable design elements and green building practices. The building is designed to meet LEED Silver certification, but it has the potential to achieve Gold certification, according to Matthew Nawn, resident engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE.) “I see this as a trend in government laboratory construction,” he predicts.

BSL labs use more energy than standard facilities due to their sophisticated ventilation systems, which is why USAMRIID’s potential to earn LEED Gold status is “nothing short of remarkable,” Nawn says. “The volume of intake and exhaust air makes laboratories in general energy hogs, so to find a way to still meet capacity but also be energy efficient and compliant with LEED criteria is very significant.”

BIM Coordination

The USAMRIID structure will be structural steel with high-containment concrete, metal panels and glass curtainwall, according to Brian Killion, Manhattan project executive and vice president of operations. A decision on the part of Manhattan and Torcon Joint Venture (MTJV) to self-perform the concrete allowed for greater control over cost, quality and schedule, he says. 

“The biggest challenge, especially within the BSL4 area, is protection of the coatings that have to go on the floor, ceiling and walls of those areas,” adds Scott Loureiro, Torcon project executive. “We’ve taken tremendous care in making sure that the building is clean prior to the coatings, and we’ve established protocols for the trades going in and out of these areas to ensure we don’t damage these coatings after they’ve been installed.”

MTJV developed a full-scale 3-D BIM model to help with the coordination. “Some of the features that went into this had not been done before, such as stainless steel shower enclosures that were integral with the concrete,” Killion says. “I think the level of BIM modeling and advanced planning is a testament to the project team in coming up with solutions to challenges we’ve encountered throughout.”

Planning in Advance

The biggest challenge from the Army’s perspective is building a research facility to incorporate cutting-edge technologies that have yet to be developed, Zaucha says. “We won’t be occupying the facility until 2016 or 2017, which is 10 years after design was kicked off,” he notes. “It can be difficult to predict where the scientific advances are headed, what kind of equipment we need to plan for it and what kind of space configurations will best service our needs looking 10 years into the future.

“To the largest extent possible, we are striving for a high degree of flexibility,” Zaucha continues. “We are still not able to select some of our equipment right now because we want to postpone that decision until we are a couple of years out from moving into the building.”

The Perfect Match

This is the first time Manhattan and Torcon have teamed up in a joint venture together. “The architect CUH2A pointed us towards each other; they were partnered themselves with Smith Carter,” Killion recalls. 

One of the reasons Manhattan and Torcon partnered on the job is because each brings their own set of unique strengths to the project team, Loureiro says. “We rely heavily on Manhattan to provide civil architectural expertise,” he states.

Praise for Subs, Vendors

He also praises the work of the subcontractors and vendors for making the project successful. “MTJV has established a partnership relationship with all subcontractors and vendors to help build a team approach and engage all subcontractors and vendors in the planning, scheduling and coordination processes,” Loureiro says. “This team approach has enabled MTJV to build flexibility into the project.

“Communication is key to any construction project,” he adds. “MTVJ and the subcontractor community have an open and honest relationship formed by an open communication and planning philosophy.” Key partners for MTJV include R&R Reinforcing.

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