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Some May Happen, Some May Not
Master Plan Update Envisions Well-Built Campus

By Rich McManus

On the Front Page...

There is always just a hint of Shangri La when perusing NIH master planning documents, which the agency prepares roughly every 5 years in order to ensure the orderly development of the campus in coming decades. The maps that accompany the thick planning books are clutter-free, symmetrical and idyllic, with none of the dirt, dust and disruption that accompany real-world construction. They paint inviting portraits into which one would readily hasten.


We're at one of those junctures now, as the Office of Research Facilities Development and Operations prepares the 2003 update to the Bethesda campus master plan. The draft — more a vision of what the future campus might be than a blueprint of exactly how and when the campus will grow — is currently out for public review and comment, said NIH Master Planner Ron Wilson, who presented it at an Oct. 21 meeting of the Community Liaison Council. The National Capital Planning Commission, the federal government's central planning agency, has also received the draft; NIH seeks NCPC's endorsement at its Jan. 6, 2005 meeting. The draft is also before the Montgomery County Planning Board, whose review is expected in mid-December. The draft includes many of the basic ideas in the current, or 1995, Master Plan. The update further elaborates the "quad" motif adopted in its 1993 iteration, creating clusters of laboratory buildings around grassy quadrangles in different portions of the campus. Altogether, some 13 major structures are envisioned as either new, replacement or renovated space, primarily for scientific research. The construction, if it occurs, would increase NIH's current total of 7.4 million square feet of space to 10.7 million, or a gain of about 3.3 million square feet. A touchstone in the planning process is that scientific programs have dibs on campus real estate while NIH's extramural programs and other administrative space would be primarily located elsewhere.

The rendering above summarizes the potential construction and renovation foreseen at the end of the current 20-year Master Plan for the Bethesda campus.

The 2003 update — divided into four phases of about 5 years each — looks out 20 years to 2023 and sees the following changes, which the NIH planners emphasize are not necessarily bound to happen:

  • Bldg. 36, the Lowell Weicker Bldg., will come down to make room for phase 2 of the Neuroscience Research Center.
  • A Center for the Biology of Disease will anchor the southern portion of campus (or South Quad), and consist of a large Animal Research Center at its southern terminus, bounded by three laboratory buildings of between 138,000 and 183,000 gross square feet (about the same size as Bldg. 41); they are dubbed M, N and P. The new animal center will allow the current animal facilities in the Bldg. 14/28 complex of old, red-brick low-rises to be razed. Wilson states that it is far too early to say what programs the new lab buildings will host.
  • A long-anticipated child care center for the northwest quadrant of campus is planned, as is a stormwater retention pond on the lawn of the National Library of Medicine. The pond, which could be built as early as next year, is a Montgomery County project to be sited on an NIH easement and is expected to benefit water quality on campus.
  • Bldg. 29, currently the home of the FDA-CBER, is to be replaced by a research laboratory. FDA is scheduled to vacate the current building and relocate to its new headquarters at its White Oak facility in Silver Spring, according to Wilson.
  • Multi-Level Parking Garage-7, which is adjacent to Bldg. 38A, will be demolished to make room for Bldg. R, a 390,000 square foot addition to the National Library of Medicine.
  • Bldg. 12, currently the home of many Center for Information Technology computer operations, will eventually be replaced by higher density laboratory uses.
  • The Natcher Bldg. will gain its long-delayed second wing; so-called Bldg. Q would encompass 190,000 square feet.
  • Bldg. 13 would be razed to make way for Bldg. J-K, a research services facility, and a portion of Bldg. I, another laboratory. Bldg. I, not likely to rise until the late stages of the master plan, would be relatively large at 250,000 gross square feet.
  • Bldg. 30, for decades the research home of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, is also outmoded and must eventually be replaced with a modern facility. Lab F, a 150,000 gross square feet building, would include activities currently taking place in Bldg. 30.
  • Bldgs. 7 and 9 are also shown to be removed in the later phases of the plan, although the former is an historic structure, so demolition might not be possible, Wilson said.

The nearest-term additions — which might occur in the next 18 months, said Wilson — include a new campus Gateway Center and the CVI — Central Vehicle Inspection facility. The Gateway Center has three components: a 20,000 square foot facility where guests are screened, processed and allowed in; a visitor parking garage, to be sited outside the fence, near Metro, with space for 350 cars; and the VVIS, or Visitor Vehicle Inspection Station, which will inspect mainly passenger cars.

A Center for the Biology of Disease — including an Animal Research Center and three laboratory buildings dubbed M, N and P — will anchor the southern portion of campus. Just south of the Clinical Center complex the campus is slated to change dramatically over the next few years with the razing of Bldgs. 12 and 13, making room for expansion of the NIH power plant, research services facilities Bldg. J-K and lab Bldg. I. Nearest-term additions include a new campus Gateway Center and the CVI — Central Vehicle Inspection facility.

The CVI has two elements, Wilson explained: a support building of less than 7,000 square feet that would include offices and processing facilities; and an inspection area covered by a large canopy. "These are the most immediate projects," said Wilson. "We are seeking NCPC approval of these [projects] at the same time we are seeking approval for the master plan."

Some master planning projects, he adds, were already under way when ORF undertook baseline 2003 planning, including the Clinical Research Center, the addition to the Children's Inn at NIH, the new research Bldg. 33, the Safra Lodge and MLP-9, a parking garage just southwest of Bldg. 10.

The draft plan makes explicit some large-scale architectural attractions that have long been on the drawing board, including a Central Mall that would extend roughly from the South Entry of Bldg. 10 to what is now Bldg. 34, a power plant facility. Interestingly, Bldg. 34 is to be utterly converted ("adaptively reused," is the planning terminology) from its present role of providing heating and cooling to becoming a Campus Center that would include fitness facilities, a cafeteria, child care and other amenities.

The Central Mall would be about 350 feet wide, or about the width of Bldg. 10's backside, and consume what is now known as parking lot 10H, and the site where Bldg. 29 now stands. The mall space would be flanked by new lab buildings D, F, G, H and I (ranging in size from 112,000 to 250,000 square feet).

Another new feature that exists now only in brief stretches is a Loop Road that would surround the interior campus, linking the front of the CRC with the south edge of the Center for the Biology of Disease complex. The Loop Road in front of the new hospital has already been completed.

The draft master plan assumes that NIH's on-campus population in 2023 will be around 22,000 people. Interestingly, the 1995 update predicted a campus total of 18,000 workers in 2015. On any given day now, there are 17,500 employees, augmented by 4,000 to 5,000 contractors, trainees and students, giving a current daily census of about 23,000 to 24,000 people on campus.

There is no cost associated with the predicted campus build-out because the figures would be too speculative, said Stella Serras-Fiotes, an architect and planner who directs the Division of Facilities Planning. The 2003 update, she said, "is not a commitment or a done deal for any project. This is just how things could happen, if and when they need to happen."

She explained the logic of the four phases: "The first phase is to finish what's already been started (including the CRC, Bldg. 33, MLP-9, the Safra Lodge and some other projects). The second phase is the south part of campus (including the Center for the Biology of Disease and southern leg of the Loop Road) and the renewal of Bldg. 10 (see sidebar). The third phase is the Central Mall portion of campus, and the fourth involves isolated building projects in the central and eastern areas of the campus."

There is also a draft environmental impact statement associated with the master plan update that ORF presented to the community at a meeting Nov. 8 at Walter Johnson High School. All reviews with relevant authorities are expected to be completed by early next year, Wilson said.

What Becomes of Old Bldg. 10?

With all of the excitement of opening a new Clinical Research Center this fall, including a patient move-in date of Dec. 4, many may be asking, "What's going to become of old Bldg. 10?" This question has occupied planners at the Office of Research Facilities for at least the past decade, and is still not fully resolved.

"Large parts of the vacated patient care units (PCUs) will be locked off," said Stella Serras-Fiotes, director of the Division of Facilities Planning, ORF. Most of the utilities serving these areas will be mothballed in order to reduce demand; the goal is simply to stabilize the entire building until it can be renovated. "There will be some important utility upgrades to ensure reliability for the labs that remain in Bldg. 10," she said. Eventually, the central wings of the old building will be renovated for lab use.

The draft update to the 2003 master plan envisions renewal of the vacated PCUs sometime during the second phase of the four-phase plan, Serras-Fiotes said. "It should occur before 2023," she noted.

A Book of Captivating NIH Trivia

The 2003 update to NIH's draft master plan may be a fat, dry paperback book on the outside, but on the inside it's filled with all kinds of interesting campus trivia — fun facts to know and tell around the water cooler.

Did you know, for example, that the campus is traversed by underground streams buried 30 to 35 feet beneath the surface, or that the mean annual temperature on campus is 57, or that the average night-time noise level is around 55 decibels?

Did you know that four sites on campus have been designated as "archaeologically sensitive?" Or that "NIH is underlain by the Lower Pelitic Schist of the Wissahickon Formation?" Or that the two major surface soil series at NIH are Glenelg and Manor (although there are also smatterings of the Worsham, Glenville and Neshaminy series)?

Did you know that the highest point on campus (at 384.3 feet above sea level) is just north of Bldg. 37, along South Drive, and that the lowest point (232.2 feet above sea level) is near the corner of Cedar Lane and Rockville Pike?

Because the volume is dedicated to what is physically describable, it ranges from plantings, to lights and signage, to arcana such as how many people per acre we have: "NIH has an employee population of 56 persons/acre. This is less than the potential full-occupancy staff and resident population of 125 persons/acre for the Central Business District (of Bethesda) and more than the resident population of 8-12 persons/acre in the surrounding neighborhoods."

In case you were curious, the Clinical Center complex is the largest population center on campus, with over 7,000 employees, or 40 percent of the campus total.

Some items are easily quantified. For example, "typical daily electrical usage ranges from about 1.0 million to 1.3 million kilowatthours (KWHR). Total Pepco billed electricity consumption for the year 2003 was 409,000,000 KWHR. The maximum recorded daily demand of 74,486 kilowatts occurred in June 2003." Must have been a scorcher. By contrast, the peak recorded demand for steam in 2003 was 532,000 pounds per hour.

Some fragments strain for significance: "The compressed air system at the NIH campus is an underground system that is generated in Bldg. 11 at 125 psi (pounds per square inch) and is distributed to other buildings at approximately 110 psi."

Some facts don't seem possible. What do you think the largest land use on the campus is? Buildings? No, that's only 44 acres, or 14 percent of campus. Roads and parking lots? No, that's only about 85 acres, or 28 percent of the land. If you guessed "undeveloped open space," you're a genius. The book says "landscaped, wooded and open areas account for approximately 181 acres or 58 percent of campus."

And just in case you were wondering, "the flow of the sanitary sewer system at NIH is in a general southwest to northeast direction across the campus...Except for Bldg. 60, all the sewage generated on the NIH campus is discharged to the WSSC sewer network...and flows to the Blue Plains Waste Water Treatment Plant."

Perhaps the most philosophically unsettling sentence in the whole book is this: "There are relatively few identifiable 'places' on campus, and most outdoor open spaces are not well defined by enclosure, landscape, or character." (Would anything that looks like a place now simply be considered a "place-bo?") Twenty years might be a long time to wait for no place in particular to ripen into someplace special, but once it arrives, it should have been worth the trip.

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