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Vol. LXI, No. 8
April 17, 2009

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Have a question about some aspect of working at NIH? You can post anonymous queries at (click on the Feedback icon) and we’ll try to provide answers.

Feedback: When taking the Executive Boulevard or Rockledge Shuttle to go to meetings at Natcher, we used to get off at the stop just inside the NIH fence at the Metro and walk up the hill. Now they have removed the sidewalk and put up “Keep off the grass” signs. Walking around roughly triples the walking distance. Why did they take away our sidewalk? Can we have it back please?

Answer from the Office of Research Facilities: The temporary sidewalk was located between the Stone House and the Gateway Center in an area designated in the NIH Master Plan as grass and open green space. The sidewalk was built as a temporary pathway to the southeast section of campus (including Natcher and NLM) while the Gateway construction was under way. Now that construction is complete, the project requires the area to be restored to its original condition to prevent soil erosion.

A direct, permanent and ADA-compliant pathway now exists from the Gateway Center/Metro area to the same general location behind the Natcher Bldg. that the temporary sidewalk previously served. Employees need only walk between the Gateway Center and the MLP-11 parking garage to access Natcher or any other building in the area. The new route adds little or no time to the previous route.

Feedback: Doesn’t anyone at NIH care how noisy this place can be? I had to laugh because there was a picture on the NIH web site about the Noisy Planet: that’s NIH I said! We have jackhammers, leaf blowers, lawn mowers, vacuum cleaners, dump trucks. With so much noise, I often find it hard to do my job. No one seems to care that at a research agency, many of [us] need quiet in order to concentrate and complete our work. Someone ought to be in charge of monitoring noise levels. Operations involving loud noise should be performed in the evening or on weekends.

Reply from the Office of Research Services: Your points are well taken. Although NIH recognizes that construction and maintenance noise on campus can be a distraction to staff and contractors, NIH also has the surrounding neighborhoods to take into account when considering when to conduct facility-related activities. According to Montgomery County Code, the NIH noise should be limited to 65dB or less during the day and 55dB or less at night at the NIH fence line. Daytime means 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends and holidays.

NIH conducted a noise study with the help of an expert in the field of acoustics and vibrations. The 2007 study showed that NIH does not exceed county noise limits in surrounding neighborhoods, but this involves scheduling when we can accomplish certain tasks. Although the interior of campus may experience higher noise levels at times, the county ordinance makes NIH consider noise when conducting construction and maintenance work that might be loud.

The campus is like a small, compact city. It has continued to grow and currently supports over 12.4 million square feet of built space requiring ongoing renovations, maintenance and new facilities. Considering that we are directly adjacent to residential neighborhoods on three sides and two major roadways, one begins to understand the complexities associated with noise. There are numerous efforts made to reduce noise around NIH through plantings, placement of buildings and operational adjustments. Per county ordinance, the preferred time higher noise levels are permissible occurs during the normal workday. Therefore we attempt to conduct our noisier operations during the day. We have also scheduled noisy activities on the weekend during the daylight hours to minimize the impact.

Feedback: What is the status of the new tower outside of Bldg. 31? The NIH Record article said the project would be completed in the fall of 2008. It is April 2009 and construction is still going on.

Reply from the Office of Research Services: The Bldg. 31 Fire Stairwell/Life Safety Improvement Project is scheduled for completion this summer. Most of the exterior work is close to completion. Once the structural exterior work is finished, the interior work will begin.

Along with weather delays, a major contributing factor to the delay in the construction schedule was the need to provide “no-noise” construction dates to the contractor in order to allow for the continuation of important meetings on the 6th floor of Bldg. 31C. As occupants of Bldg. 31 are well aware, the noise on many dates has been unbearable and it would be impossible to hold a meeting or conference in this environment. The conference schedule was rigorously screened and meetings were moved to other facilities when possible. But due to the heavy use of the facilities for institute/center council meetings and various other high-level events, it was impossible to move many of them or reschedule them to future dates. Many of these events had been scheduled 2 years in advance. Without the no-noise dates, the NIH mission would have been severely impacted if heavy machinery and other construction producing excessive noise were used during these meetings.


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