Project Profile: NIH Covid Tissue Culture Lab
Scope of work: Design-build renovation of secure laboratory
BC&E Member companies involved: Matos Builders
Some projects show the clear benefits of really careful planning. In the case of the Covid Tissue Culture Laboratory project at the National Institutes of Health, eight months of planning enabled the project team to complete construction within four weeks and deliver a 10 percent savings to the client.
The project was small but highly challenging. A new NIH scientist required a custom lab to complete critical Covid-19 research. The lab would include a mass spectrometer, incubators, a bio-safety cabinet and other equipment, and it would have to comply with both equipment manufacturers’ specifications and the NIH Design Requirements Manual.
In addition, the space was located inside Building 33 “which is among the toughest buildings to work in at NIH,” said Matt Turner, Project Manager at Matos Builders.
To prevent any impact on highly sensitive research that was ongoing in adjacent labs, the project team would have to build barriers around their work, install air scrubbers, mop daily, clean tools before they entered and exited the site each day, minimize vibrations and adhere to other precautions. Workers would have to hold security clearances, submit to screenings as they arrived each day and be escorted at all times on site.
Those conditions created endless opportunities for things to go wrong. Failure to reserve escorts could nix a day’s work. Arriving with the wrong tools or other items could result in workers being denied access to the building or sent home early. Consequently, successful completion of the renovation hinged on detailed daily planning, careful selection of subcontractors and quickly resolving issues as they arose.
Turner, who had decades of experience building mission critical facilities, remained onsite throughout construction to address any challenges. “My approach to any issue is adapt, overcome, figure it out. I had intimate knowledge of the design process so I could look for solutions right away that have the least risk and the least cost impact.”
The electrical contractor on the project “has been a presence on the NIH campus in Bethesda for over 20 years,” Turner said. “Their foreman said this was the first project he had ever worked on that went so smooth and so quick.”
Ultimately, project work triggered just one change order – processing of a 10 percent reduction in the project cost, Turner said. “Through value engineering, we had been able to find a way to make all the additional equipment fit within the laboratory and provide the proper air exchanges with their existing mechanical equipment. That both reduced the cost and helped the construction schedule.”