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NIH Record

Brisk Bldg. 50 Construction Aided by Quality Planning

By Josť Alvarado

On the Front Page...

Construction of the new Consolidated Laboratory Facility, now in its second and final phase, is moving along swiftly thanks to advances in technology and total quality planning that have been adopted as the norm for NIH projects. These elements have made the 5-story structure known as Bldg. 50 -- slated to open in the year 2000 -- a model for state-of-the-art building on campus.


Bldg. 50 began its ascent from the excavation to the basement level last April with the award of a contract to Bell Co. of Rochester, N.Y., for phase 2 construction. "The first big goal is to build the entire 5 stories and penthouse concrete frame of the building by January 1999," said Frank Kutlak, Bldg. 50 project officer/architect from ORS's Division of Engineering Services. "The concrete is basically the leader in front of everybody else, while the rest of the trades follow along in sequence."

Workmen pour concrete for basement column.

Photos: Bill Branson

An essential component of Bldg. 50 construction is the computerized critical path method (CPM) schedule, which was developed by the Navy and first used in the construction of nuclear submarines. CPM assigns durations and interconnects about 5,000 tasks to be completed in order to finish the project. These activities must all be executed in logical order. They are represented in a blackboard-size chart located in the main construction trailer, TR50A.

"You try to do as many tasks as soon as possible in the overall schedule simultaneously, rather than have activities drag out consecutively," explained Kutlak. "More than a check-off list, it's a very dynamic, interactive matrix of all the activities that generates what is called a 'critical path.' The idea is to use the schedule to verify planning and to monitor progress so we can identify potential problems well in advance."

Project Officer Frank Kutlak oversees progress on the Bldg. 50 site.

The site has already proven to be an on-campus model for innovative construction techniques. For example, conventional concrete framing has been replaced with a "post-tension concrete system" in which "the design provides special steel cables that are tensioned with jacks shortly after the concrete hardens," according to Kutlak. These cables add strength to the floor slabs and result in a design with 40 percent less concrete. He also mentioned how, in the building itself, interstitial levels, which are essentially walk-on ceilings, will speed up construction because "mechanical and electrical tradesmen will be working on their systems on the interstitial ceiling floor above, while carpenters will simultaneously install casework and finishes on the floor below." Once the structure is occupied, these interstitial floors will provide DES maintenance workers access to utilities without interrupting scientists' work.

Basement perimeter wall surrounds interior columns.

Efficiency and total quality design in Bldg. 50 have already been recognized by HHS, which gave the project its "Energy and Water Conservation Award" because the mechanical design will save 40 percent in utility costs over other typical labs.

Best Value Procurement

Bldg. 50 incorporated a relatively new contracting and bidding process that emphasizes quality over initial cost. In a conventional bidding process, the institution chooses the construction contractor offering the lowest bid. But Bldg. 50, under the leadership of Contracting Officer Barbara Taylor, went through an innovative bidding procedure called "best value procurement (BVP)," in which proposals must exceed minimum requirements and emphasize quality. Bell Co., for example, was not the lowest bidder, but its overall proposal, including recent experience in erecting similar research labs, surpassed others in total quality standards and was selected as representing the "best value" to the government. So far, Bldg. 50 is the largest BVP project at NIH.

Safety First

Total quality management extends to the workers as well. Bell has a full-time safety manager onsite every day who makes sure the employees are observing safety rules. Recent OSHA requirements have made mandatory the wearing of a harness while working on the shoring. "They used to wear just safety belts, but the problem with that is that upon falling, a person could break his back," said Brian Temme, quality manager. "Harnesses support them all around and reduce the likelihood of injury. It's kind of like a parachute harness."

Construction quality manager Brian Temme points out details of the Critical Path Method.

Total quality planning also involves attention to detail. "We insist on good housekeeping. Garbage containers are kept around the site so it doesn't become messy or littered. Equipment and tools are kept accessible, in plain sight, and materials are piled neatly. We stress that," says Kutlak, surveying the grounds. "A clean site is a safe site."

"Duriron" sewer lines go in before pouring of floor slab.

Construction Progress

Aside from some wet weather during phase 1, little else has slowed Bldg. 50 construction. "There was a major team effort to carefully plan all of this," said Kutlak. "And so far it has been going pretty much according to schedule. We finished phase 1 (including major utility relocation, excavation, and caisson foundations) with Manhattan Construction only a few weeks behind schedule and have smoothly transitioned to Bell Co. in phase 2. We also recently closed out the phase 1 contract with no claims and below the original government estimate. Now we have to keep going and get as much done as we can, and not let any of the activities fall behind. Bell currently has 30 to 40 men working here. Ultimately, when they have the electrical, mechanical, plumbers, bricklayers and finishers as well as the concrete workers and carpenters, there could be as many as 200 men working here daily. Right now we are working on the most difficult portion -- the basement, which is a different footprint from the rest of the floors and has the most complicated plumbing and electrical system. Once we emerge from the hole and start framing the first floor, the pace will pick up."

Rodmen install reinforcing steel on stairhall #4.

You can follow construction progress on the Bldg. 50 Web site, located at, where there is a real-time panoramic view from a camera on the roof of Bldg. 12A; close-up digital photos of construction activity are posted several times a week.

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