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Louis Stokes Laboratories Bldg. Gains a Floor,
Nears Halfway Point

Photos by Ernie Branson

On the Front Page...

As it approaches the halfway point in its 3-year construction period, the Louis Stokes Laboratories (Bldg. 50)— which was originally planned to be 5 stories — recently added a floor that will provide 42 more laboratory modules and 27,000 net square feet of usable space. To accommodate the additional floor, the original fourth and fifth floors were moved up one level and a new fourth floor was inserted, which added only 3 months to the project. Completion date is now set for October 2000, with full occupancy by early 2001.

Rooftop steel framing for Bldg. 50's penthouse mechanical space crowns the 6-story structure, now halfway complete.


The decision to add a floor came late last year when the Bldg. 50 project management team examined the project budget and forecast a surplus due to good construction market conditions at the time the job was bid and the limited number of change orders during construction. The management team then explored options. "We wanted to maximize the project, so I asked the structural engineer to see if adding a floor would work. The engineer reviewed it and said it could be done," said Frank Kutlak, Division of Engineering Services (DES) architect and Bldg. 50 project officer.

The next step was to discuss this possibility with the general contractor, Bell Co., to see if an extra floor was feasible from their perspective. The result was, again, positive, but the decision had to be made very quickly. "We then went to the ORS/DES Design, Construction and Alteration Branch management with the proposal," Kutlak said. "They were cautious, but agreed to let us have a feasibility study done by the project's architect/engineer. Two weeks later, the study concluded that it was technically possible in all disciplines (structural, architectural, mechanical and electrical) with a few minor upgrades."

A welder from Baltimore Steel —leather-jacketed to protect himself from flying sparks — works on steel framing for the penthouse air handling system. The air handlers are so heavy that a special crane was used to hoist them to the roof.

A presentation was made to Steve Ficca, NIH associate director for research services. "We ran all the numbers, and it was close," Kutlak recalls. "We could afford it, but the construction contingency (a reserve fund commonly kept to handle unanticipated costs) was going to be affected. Mr. Ficca strongly supported our proposal, but insisted that we maintain the contingency in accordance with sound business practices. He helped us work out the budget and contingency issue. The NIH decision to add the floor had to be made quickly, before construction started on the fifth floor."

Operating within a 22-day window of opportunity from the issuance of the feasibility study, the ORS team got approval from NIH director Dr. Harold Varmus with 2 days to spare. "Adding a floor in a project under construction (and within budget) is really an extraordinary accomplishment and it was only possible because of the extreme teamwork and cooperation between the project management team, the design consultants, the general contractor and their subcontractors and the NIH management," said Kutlak. "I am grateful that my ORS/DES management had enough confidence in our team to even let us consider and present such a major proposal."

Bldg. 50 Project Officer Frank Kutlak (l) poses with ironworkers from Baltimore Steel who are installing the mechanical penthouse steel framing.

This summer, teams of tradesmen are working their way through the structure's gray concrete caverns, completing their portions of the project. "There are at least 15 trades onsite right now, including structural steel, electrical, plumbers, sheet metal, elevator and masons," said Kutlak. The order of construction has been from the bottom up and from west to east, he explained. "Everything moves in waves and sequences from the west section, to the center section, to the east on each successive floor" in a building shaped like an offset letter "Z" whose wings are mirror images of one another.

Already, scores of the principal investigators who will work in the building are donning hardhats to visit their space and verify the final design. "This is called the 'deferred design phase,'" explained Kutlak. "We've got until 550 days into the project to make final decisions on certain elements in the original design (such as cold rooms and cabinet types). The PI's have been visiting since April; about half of their visits are complete. The second round should wrap up in July and August."

Bricklayers from Long Masonry work on a motorized climbing scaffold. They are installing exterior brick facing on Bldg. 50's west wall.

What visitors are seeing are massive openings in the building's sides that will serve as windows illuminating rows of laboratory "peninsulas" arranged in an open-lab format known as "neighborhoods." So-called "interstitial" floors above the lab ceilings contain all the pipe runs for ventilation, exhaust, lab gases, electrical and plumbing, and will give future access to DES Public Works Branch personnel servicing the building's mechanical systems. "The only thing the PWB staff will have to go into the lab to do is change the lightbulbs — everything else is up here," said Kutlak, gesturing to an interstitial section nearing completion on the first floor. "The interstitial concept also makes it much easier to construct the building as the tradesmen can work standing on the interstitial deck instead of having to use tall ladders as they would have to in a conventional design."

View from the basement, looking up a concrete stair hall tower; doorways service interstitial and occupied levels.

Kutlak is as solicitous of the building as a father with a newborn: "I walk every square foot of the project every morning and night," he says unabashedly. Trading hearty hellos with all of the various workers as he tours the site, he is similarly unfazed by clambering from floor to floor on a flimsy steel scaffold-staircase; it is not work for the fainthearted.

"I don't see how else you can manage a major construction project," he says. "I'm out here with the workers every day." He is particularly proud of having attended 27 of 29 concrete pours at 4 in the morning. "I only missed those two because I was on business trips." He jokes, "I probably don't really contribute very much, but it's good to be around to coordinate and oversee things. The tradesmen really appreciate it and respect me for being out there with them."

In a tangle of legs and pipes, steamfitters from Bell Co. work on the main chilled water supply and return lines that will provide chilled water to cool the building.

He points out various amenities, including the outdoor balconies, one on the north and south sides of every floor, and pipe chases that are so artistic that he wishes they could have glass walls so that others could appreciate them. The building's main features earn more attention: a vivarium (animal facility) that will replace the Bldg. 7 animal facility as a habitat for mice and rabbits; 10 gigantic air handlers (one in the basement, nine on the roof); three 16-ton electrical transformers that will step the current down from 13,800 volts as it enters the building to usable voltages for the labs; a unique nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) facility built to house 8 or 9 magnets, including a 1-gigahertz machine — not yet even built — that will be the world's largest.

Three concrete NMR platforms, each measuring 20-feet square and weighing 120 tons, sit on cushions of air so that tiny vibrations won't affect the machines' workings. "There were special acoustic vibration design considerations," Kutlak said. "The NMR platforms need to be totally isolated from the rest of the structure." Adjacent to the NMR room is another world-class facility — an electron microscopy (EM) suite that will eventually house four high-power electron microscopes that will generate so much heat that they will be cooled by liquid nitrogen. Forecast Kutlak, "The Louis Stokes Laboratories will be one of the world's foremost facilities for NMR/EM."

As happy as the building's hundreds of researchers from seven institutes will be when the job wraps up next fall, one senses that Kutlak will be, in some sense, bereft on that occasion; you probably couldn't add enough floors to keep this project officer as pleased as he is today.

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