Helmerich Center Nears Completion

By Lisa Doyle | September 28, 2010

Flinco Inc. is wrapping up construction on a major Oklahoma State University (OSU) — Tulsa project that could spark the economy and attract new industries to Northeast Oklahoma. The $43-million Helmerich Advanced Technology Research Center (ATRC) will facilitate research in a variety of fields including composite and advanced materials, and energy technology.

OSU-Tulsa President Gary Trennepohl says research at the new facility will be primarily through the college of engineering, with a focus on advanced, or manmade materials and nanotechnology, the science that manipulates materials on a molecular scale. He says these technologies are very important in aviation/aerospace and energy industries — the two predominant industries in Oklahoma. Developing advanced materials that are cheaper, lighter, stronger, or faster can help these industries perform better.

"Advanced materials have applications in many areas, but we want to insure that we are supporting our major Oklahoma industries of aviation/aerospace and energy to develop new materials that will enhance their productivity."

When fully operational, the 123,000-square-foot building will house up to 40 faculty and researchers and 100 graduate students. The research center will contain specialized laboratories, a clean room, an imaging suite, advanced information technology equipment, and faculty offices. In addition, two high-tech seminar rooms, one seating 120 people and another seating 40, will be available for international research conferences and special seminars.

The building is three stories with a mechanical penthouse on the top floor. A lower level is partially basement, and partially open to the south end, and two levels are above grade. The main entrance of the building opens into a two-story atrium that separates the laboratory area from the public area. The secure laboratory area is laid out on a 10-1/2-foot module, all engineering labs. Some will be used by research groups, and others are for common use.

Common laboratories were important for the university, which has faculty that splits time between the OSU-Tulsa and OSU-Stillwater campuses. "One of the things that was very important for us was flexibility," says President Trennepohl. "We need flexible lab space that can adapt to the needs of different faculty and researchers."

In addition to the common, or core labs, there are high-bay labs — two-story labs that will be used for projects that require more space than the traditional lab, such as strength testing in mechanical engineering.

Poured-in-place concrete construction was used on the laboratory side of the building for the structural system. "We needed a stiff structure because of the needs of the experiments and the instrumentation need an environment that negates any kind of vibration from the structure," says Gregory Markert, AIA, project manager for PSA Dewberry.

"In addition the clean rooms and the imaging area sit on 4-foot-thick concrete vibration isolation slabs. Those areas use instrumentation such as electron microscopes that are extremely sensitive to vibration."

The north side of the building is a steel structure, and houses seminar rooms, offices, conference, and break rooms.

The mechanical penthouse on the third floor includes three strobic fans that exhaust fumes from the labs. The fans run 24 hours a day, and will emit fumes a safe distance above the building, allowing the fumes to mix into the air in levels that are not harmful to the environment.

Extra precaution was also taken to isolate the ductwork in the structure to prevent transmitting noise or vibration into the structure and into the surrounding areas. Everything from the elevators to generators, to equipment in the basement has to be isolated, because equipment in the field of nanotechnology is vibration sensitive.

To stay with the theme of the research center's purpose, a combination of manmade materials such as wood-look wall covering, stainless steel and plastics was used across the facility. Three major art pieces have been commissioned for the facility, including a stainless steel sculpture for the front exterior, a dramatic mobile composed of plastics, metal and glass for the atrium, and a rock garden with granite waterwall outside the west end of the atrium.

Flintco Inc. is the construction manager for the project. Ron Warner, Flintco senior project manager, says concrete bids were split to ensure the concrete pours didn't slow down the construction. Because of this, concrete work was finished 50 days early, but complications with the mechanical portion of the structure, along with bad weather, brought the project back to the original schedule. "The enormous amount and variety of finishes that came together, the labs, putting in the varying chemical pipes in the building, and coordinating them with each lab has been a challenge. Our subcontractors and superintendent have all done a great job coordinating it all."

Another challenge Flintco faced was keeping the project within budget. Staggering the bid for some portions of the project allowed them to save money. "We tabled the clean rooms and environmental rooms, and rebid them at a later date," says Warner. "Once we got the mechanical and other parts of the building in place, the bidders were able to get a better idea of what was required and we were able to bid it with more accuracy. That saved us about $800,000."

The Helmerich ATRC is funded through $30 million from the Tulsa County Vision 2025 Initiative, $12 million from an Oklahoma higher education bond issue, and a $9 million donation from Walter and Peggy Helmerich of Tulsa and the Helmerich Foundation. The center should be complete later this month.