Rockford Construction and Clark Construction Lead Safety Push on MSU's $88M Grand Rapids Research Center
Situated on a tight site alongside I-196, the $88 million Michigan State University (MSU) Grand Rapids Research Center aims for LEED certification and high safety standards on an aggressive schedule. But the impact of the six-story building extends to more than its 162,000 square feet near downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Led by the joint venture of Rockford Construction of Grand Rapids and Clark Construction Company of Lansing, Michigan, as construction manager, the project utilizes and expands the specialized health and science industry expertise of local construction companies. The additional traffic expected when the building opens in 2017 prompted the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the City of Grand Rapids to plan traffic flow improvements along the city's Medical Mile, the designated area that houses clinical, research, and academic institutions. Upon completion, 260 world-class researchers will populate the new labs to advance medical research.
Public-Private Partnership or Not?
As part of the MSU College of Human Medicine, the new research building expands the school's capabilities. "We're a community-based medical school; we don't have our own hospital so we have relationships around the state, including Grand Rapids," explained Vennie Gore, MSU Vice President for Auxiliary Enterprises.
The school's West Michigan presence began as part of a long-range strategy in 2005 and led to the construction of the $90 million, privately funded College of Human Medicine Secchia Center, a medical education building that opened in 2010.
The second part of the long-range plan involved recruiting scientists to West Michigan. MSU researchers now fill all the available space at Grand Rapids' Van Andel Institute. With the lease for that space expiring in 2017, the university decided to build its own facility. According to Gore, "This laboratory design and environmental construction is highly specialized to meet the stringent quality standards for MSU's National Institutes of Health-funded scientific research."
In order to get the highest quality for the best value, MSU explored the possibility of a public-private partnership (P3). The university issued a request for qualifications in April 2014, narrowed the field and issued a request for proposals in June 2014, and received three P3 proposals in August 2014 that were reviewed by MSU's project committee and a team of outside experts.
In the end, cost factors made traditional, university-financed delivery the better option. "We were able to deliver this project less expensively than the private group," Gore said. "A lot of that is our access to non-tax bonding; the cost of capital was cheaper for us." MSU also used donations to fund the project.
Through open solicitation and an interview process, the university hired SmithGroupJJR from Detroit, Michigan, as the architect/engineer of record and Ellenzweig from Cambridge, Massachusetts, as the laboratory planner/design architect. Construction Manager Clark/Rockford awarded construction packages based on low bids.
Recycle and Reuse
To begin the project, MSU demolished the old Grand Rapids Press building on the 4.3-acre site. "Demolition allowed us to build a facility that best achieves the goals inherent in biomedical research that requires high-tech laboratories and allows for the site to have maximum flexibility for future development," Gore said.
Pitsch Companies of Grand Rapids began demolition in March 2015 and finished in early August. The brownfield clean-up removed 20,000 square feet of asbestos floor tiles, 2,500 feet of pipe insulation, and 5,900 fluorescent light bulbs.
In addition, "We wanted to recycle as much of the old materials-drywall, wood, plastic, etc.-as we could," Gore said. "We recycled the steel and crushed the concrete for future construction use. The artist wanted to use the copper as part of the art in the building. In total, 80 to 90 percent of the building materials were diverted from the landfill."
The extensive reuse and recycling contributed to the project's goal of LEED certification. In addition, the building design adds natural light with a four-story atrium and a glass curtain wall on the south side. Plans include environmentally friendly ventilation and water systems, carpeting, paint, and other materials.
Skilled Trades for Specialized Construction
Construction crews also deal with technical elements for the building's research program spaces and five core labs (bioinformatics, flow cytometer, long-term storage, and analytical and advanced microscopy). Even with the specialized nature of the building, though, "We wanted to involve local trades, so we did a lot of outreach," Gore said. "Given the hospitals and other research groups around, we found the skilled trades able to do that."
The technical elements require extra testing throughout construction. For instance, with I-196 just 500 feet from the property line, "We make sure each floor passes a vibration test because we'll have very sensitive scientific equipment," Gore said. "They test every time they do a pour to make sure we're meeting the construction standard we need."
As the team installs the HVAC system, they carefully conduct commissioning. "We're making sure we have the right air flow with enough ventilation through the building for all the different kinds of labs," Gore added.
Despite the challenges, construction proceeds quickly. "We have a pretty aggressive schedule for this type of science building," Gore said.
Crews celebrated 25 weeks of construction safety without incident or injury at the topping off ceremony last November, and continue to stress precautionary measures as work progresses in the tight footprint. "We admire Clark/Rockford's persistent emphasis on safety," Gore said. "It's a focal point of all the trades meetings and coordination. You get tight spaces with a lot of folks and it just takes a lot of coordination."
Gore expects the building to be completely shelled in by July and finished by late 2017. Areas of study within the labs will include Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, pediatric neurology, autism, inflammation, transplantation, cancer, and genetics. "We'll have a total of 44 principle investigators and their labs," he said. "With each team's lab members, ultimately there will be about 260 members of the MSU scientific research teams in the building."
To accommodate additional traffic generated by the new facility and help alleviate existing traffic flow issues along the Medical Mile, the City of Grand Rapids and MDOT are developing plans to improve nearby freeway ramp configurations and local roadways. MDOT awarded a $1.57 million state Transportation Economic Development Fund (TEDF) Category grant to help fund the $6.17 million project.
More construction could follow. According to the university, since the new research facility occupies only half of the land parcel, future opportunities may arise for discussions with P3 developers about complementary projects that could further enhance MSU's vision for medical education and commercialization of science.