UK's New Pharmacy Building Poses Many Challenges

By Tom Hale | September 28, 2010

The University of Kentucky (UK) campus in Lexington is buzzing with construction activity. The university's $132-million Biological/Pharmaceutical Complex — a five-story, 300,000-square-foot academic and research building for the College of Pharmacy — is rapidly taking shape on the northwest corner of Limestone Street and Leader Avenue.

The University of Kentucky’s $132-million Biological/Pharmaceutical Complex – a five-story academic and research building. (Rendering courtesy EOP Architects)

Messer/Jacobs, a partnership formed for this project between Messer Construction Co. — a regional general contractor and construction manager with operations in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and Tennessee — and Jacobs Engineering is managing construction of the new structure. Located adjacent to the Biomedical Biological Science Research Building (BBSRB), it will be the first academic building in UK's 20-year, $2.5-billion expansion plan along S. Limestone Street, designed to further growth in research and health education.

BBSRB, which opened in April 2005, was the first research building to be constructed under the plan. Currently, construction is proceeding on the $450-million (phase 1) Albert B. Chandler Hospital, a new, 12-floor patient-care facility on S. Limestone, with another $250 million of fit-out (phase 2) scheduled to follow. Other structures eyed include a shared Health Sciences Learning Center, where students from different health disciplines would interact and learn together, and buildings to house the colleges of medicine, dentistry, nursing, health sciences, and public health.

College of Pharmacy's New Home

Groundbreaking ceremonies for the Biological/Pharmaceutical Complex took place April 13, 2007, with initial construction beginning in May. The project features multiple bid packages, says Messer Project Executive Mike Wedding.

Excavation of the project site was intriguing because of the site's close proximity to adjacent buildings. Because of the tight site, the construction team decided to use a Trencor 1660 HDE trencher, along with a variety of backhoes and excavators, to perform rock excavation — removing layers of unclassified rock — instead of drilling and blasting.

Foundation/structural concrete operations are currently proceeding as the Messer/Jacobs team gears up for structural steel erection. That work is slated to begin in mid-March, with completion by September.

Design Process: A Balancing Act

Designed by Ekhoff, Ochenkoski & Polk (EOP) Architects, Lexington, the new home of the College of Pharmacy will house two floors of academic spaces and three floors of research laboratories, according to EOP Principal Richard Polk Jr., AIA. There will also be a full basement with additional research facilities, and a mechanical penthouse level will sit atop the building.

The basement and first floor levels are being built with cast-in-place concrete. All above-grade levels will be composed of steel frame, metal deck and composite concrete slab floors.

During the design process for the new building, EOP had to balance two issues: size of space and vibration. The structural frame had to address the necessity of minimal vibration on the research floors, while accommodating the needs of the entire structure.

"We had to meet the performance criteria of the building relative to vibration," explains Polk. "A lot of people made an assumption, including us to start with, that the use of concrete (for the research floors) would meet that purpose. But as it turned out, that was not necessarily true. With Messer's help and help from others, we determined that the steel frame could do the job."

Research floors will be elevated over the academic spaces, supported by "very large steel members and long spans," points out Rich Riedl, P.E., senior project manager for UK's Capital Project Management department. "Construction of the steel frame will not be a routine job. The size of the members will make it very challenging."

According to EOP Architects, the structure's exterior skin will consist of brick and limestone veneer, metal panels, aluminum windows, and aluminum curtain wall. The mechanical penthouse roof structure will be steel framed, covered by insulated architectural metal panels.

Inside the Biological/Pharmaceutical Complex, the academic levels will include two 219-seat lecture halls, a 110-seat lecture hall, a teaching lab suite, and a variety of classrooms and offices. The third floor will include biology, pharmaceutical and chemistry laboratories as well as researcher offices, and the fourth and fifth floors will be shelled for future lab fit-up.

Among the many interior features is a five-story-high glazed atrium with a "cascading" stairway. "The atrium will connect the academic spaces to the research spaces," says Polk. "At night, the atrium is really going to be a focal point for those traveling along Limestone Street."

EOP Architects is the prime architect for the new complex. Other design team members include Ellenzweig Associates, Cambridge, Mass. — design and laboratory architect; R.G. Vanderweil Engineers, LLP, Cambridge, Mass. — mechanical/electrical engineer; BFMJ Inc., Lexington — structural engineer; Quest Engineers, Lexington — civil engineer; HC Nutting, Lexington — geotechnical engineer; Staggs & Fisher Engineering, Lexington — CUP/utility engineer; and McIlwain + Associates, Lexington — landscape architect.

The design team is comprised of firms that are leaders in green building design. EOP was the first architect to complete a LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certified project (working with Messer Construction Co. at Berea College) in Kentucky. And Ellenzweig Associates and Vanderweil Engineers have completed numerous LEED projects nationwide.

For its Biological/Pharmaceutical Complex, UK isn't pursuing green building certification. However, the design team is employing many types of green building practices to insure that the new building is sustainable.

Complexities & Challenges

The Biological/Pharmaceutical Complex is "a very complicated building," says Polk. "Any research building is like a machine — it is complicated. This one more so, because not only is it a research building, it is an academic building. So, you have two very different functions occurring in the same structure. On top of that, those functions from a security standpoint are extremely different. Research areas require very high security — you want to limit access and not encourage the general public to visit those spaces. But the requirements of the academic floors are exactly opposite — these floors sit at the primary entrance of the building, and they have to be open and inviting to the public. In addition, the building design will have connections to other buildings."

"So," he adds, "there are a lot of layers that go into this project, not only from a construction standpoint and from a systems standpoint, but from a program standpoint. It without question is the most complicated project I've ever done. And the contractors have a big job."

Building the new complex "is our largest job ever in Lexington," says Mark Hill, operations vice president for Messer Construction Co. He notes that the project will require approximately 13,000 cubic yards of concrete and 2,200 tons of steel.

A workforce of approximately 65 is presently on-site, and Messer officials say that figure will jump to 200 to 300 at the peak of construction. "This is a challenging project," says Wedding. "We're working on a fairly tight site for such a big building, as any campus project is. Our biggest challenges will be the skin and dry-in operations."

And, of course, meeting the project timelines is a challenge. The new complex must be completed by the end of 2009 in order for the university to occupy the building in December. College of Pharmacy classes are scheduled to begin in January 2010.

"It's important to bring research, academics, everything on line at the start of the spring semester," says Riedl. "So, while Mike (Wedding) is focused on getting the building done, the university is focused on commissioning — preparing to move in when he turns it over to us."

The Biological/Pharmaceutical Complex will allow the College of Pharmacy to relocate from its current position along Rose Street. Overall, the new building will double the amount of classroom space and increase research space by about 40 percent.

UK's College of Pharmacy has been ranked among the top 10 for more than two decades. The new facility will provide the college with a state-of-the-art facility that will also allow the college to continue to expand its programs to educate more Kentucky pharmacists as well as more pharmaceutical scientists.

Safety Partnership

In an attempt to increase worker safety on the UK project, Messer Construction, along with the Kentucky Department of Labor (DOL) and the university, entered into a formal safety partnership aimed at preventing accidents and injuries among workers. The Construction Partnership Program is a voluntary arrangement in which safety and health experts from the Division of Education & Training, Kentucky Office of Occupational Safety & Health (OSHA), make quarterly, consultative visits to the building site to provide extensive safety and health surveys.

"This partnership is designed for us to learn from OSHA, and for OSHA to learn from us," says Wedding. "It's truly a collaboration grounded in the premise that we will seek to ensure every person on our project site returns home safely every day. We like it because it raises the awareness of safety. This is the second one we've done." (Messer and Kentucky DOL also entered into a construction safety partnership in 2005 when Messer was construction manager for the $30-million expansion of UK's Memorial Coliseum).

UK's New Patient-Care Facility

Located within walking distance of the Biological/Pharmaceutical Complex is another high-profile construction project on the UK campus: the Albert B. Chandler Hospital. This new patient-care facility — the cornerstone of the university's expansion plan — is being built in two phases, allowing for the step-by-step replacement of the existing hospital.

Initial work for the hospital project — the construction of a 1,600-space parking garage on S. Limestone between Conn Terrace and Transcipt Avenue — was completed in late 2007. The new garage replaced the current parking structure, which is being removed to provide space for the new 1.2-million-square-foot Chandler Hospital.

UK HealthCare broke ground on patient-care facility last May and anticipates the new Emergency Services will open in summer of 2010, followed by completion of phase 1 of the project in early 2011. Turner Construction Co. is construction manager.

"We've built many large, complex health care-related buildings, yet the sheer size of this project is incredible and is one of the largest in the Lexington area," says Chris Withrow, senior project manager for Messer Construction Co., Lexington. "The building footprint measures slightly over an acre."