Keeping the area free of dust and debris is a top priority for crews.
(Brasfield & Gorrie photo)
In Huntsville, Ala., a major expansion is under way at the nonprofit HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology's biotech campus.
A global headquarters for Discovery Life Sciences (DLS) is being built, along with a modern laboratory and greenhouse space for HudsonAlpha's Center for Plant Science and Sustainable Agriculture.
"Nearly every day, I am asked about the progress of the greenhouse or the DLS headquarters or both," said Carter Wells, HudsonAlpha vice president of economic development. "People here are so excited about this next stage of growth. There are 1,100 people working on the biotech campus, and some will work in one of these two new buildings; however, the comments I find so gratifying are from those who are walking on the campus' double helix and notice the work, or from those who see this growth adding to the value of the HudsonAlpha ecosystem."
In November 2020, Gov. Kay Ivey announced that HudsonAlpha had been awarded $15 million through the Public School and College Authority for the expansion.
"Alabama has a new accolade — global headquarters to a renowned and respected biosciences company," Ivey said. "This will undoubtedly strengthen Alabama's biosciences recruitment efforts, and increase the economic impact to the city, state and region."
More than 45 bioscience companies call HudsonAlpha home. The companies on the campus are involved in a variety of areas, including drug development, drug discovery, medical devices, genomics, bioinformatics, gene editing and data analytics.
The new DLS global headquarters will consist of 90,000 sq. ft. and will house DLS's research and development, laboratory and business operations.
"This is a two-phase project," said Sam Wolfe, assistant project manager of contractor Brasfield & Gorrie. "Phase one is the HudsonAlpha Institute Greenhouse, a research greenhouse with associated lab/testing space known as a headhouse. Construction started in June and is expected to be complete in the first quarter of 2022.
"Phase two is a 95,000 square-foot office lab space called the HudsonAlpha DLS building. Construction started in December and should be finished in the second quarter of 2023."
Wolfe noted that right now interior finish trade contractors are at work in the headhouse, and plumbing and electrical connections are under way in the greenhouse. DLS construction has just started, with crews preparing the pad for foundations. The assignment calls for standard concrete foundations, so deep foundations are not required.
"The greenhouse project is 90 percent complete," said Wolfe. "The DLS work is only five percent complete."
Wolfe explained that previous construction helped in the planning of current activities.
"During construction of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, the sitework contractor moved all exported soil onto the plot of land where current construction is taking place. Because we have an accurate geotechnical report from that project, we knew precisely what to expect of the existing site conditions."
The property was a heavily shrubbed area with a strip of trees that had to be removed. Working on a 14-acre site also meant moving a lot of dirt.
"The existing conditions on HudsonAlpha's campus play a big role in the excavation/dirt work that takes place," he said. "Previously used as farmland and for stockpiles and borrow pits, the 14 acres of land had the potential to contain a variety of soil conditions. Constant observations from the geotechnical engineer are essential to ensure that the dirt we're building meets the design standards. Any poor soil in areas requiring structural fill must be undercut and backfilled to achieve the proper strength."
Keeping the area free of dust and debris is a top priority for crews.
"Because we are building on an existing campus that has won beatification awards from the city of Huntsville, keeping all dirt on site and off roadways and pedestrian areas is a major focus for HudsonAlpha," said Wolfe. "We work to keep the surrounding area clean by keeping the site properly stoned, offering a proper tire wash station at all construction entrances/exits and retaining a street sweeper onsite at all times."
For Wolfe and the rest of the team, building the global DLS headquarters is no small task.
"Understanding lab requirements for the life sciences industry is critical," he said. "The project team must be familiar with specialized HVAC systems, proper lab equipment and safety protocols."
As for the laboratory and greenhouse space for the Center for Plant Science and Sustainable Agriculture, "There are few research greenhouses in the world that will compare to the sophistication of HudsonAlpha's facility. The biggest challenge is understanding the mechanical and electrical systems that enable end users to control every aspect of the growing environment. This greenhouse has everything from in-slab pex piping to control slab heat to hundreds of high-powered LED lights and a HVAC system that allows humidity and temperature to be precisely adjusted."
Brasfield & Gorrie is currently self-performing the DLS' concrete foundations, with workers keeping a close eye on weather conditions.
"Rain, and sometimes snow, in Huntsville's red clay can create moving soil on an exposed site," said Wolfe. "Getting a site rough graded and to a point where access can be established with well-maintained roads is critical."
Main equipment needed on the job includes two John Deere articulated trucks, a Dynapac CA250PD roller, a Chevy 2500 utility bed 2020, a Caterpillar D4 LGP dozer, two 84-in. sheepsfoot rollers, a Cat 259 skid steer, a mid-size wheel loader, a Caterpillar 326, a Cat 249 skid steer, a Komatsu PC88 excavator, two Ford F750 5-yd. dump trucks, two Kubota RTV X 1140 carts, a Kubota RTV 900 cart, a SkyTrak 10054 forklift, a Broce RJT359 street sweeper, two 20-ft. storage containers and a Star 1371B fork-mounted lifting hook.
There have been no major issues since work on the project began, but there has been one significant challenge due to the pandemic.
"In today's manufacturing state, we must constantly monitor the status of the materials we are procuring," said Wolfe. "Ensuring that your material is on site when you need it is critical to the schedule and completion of any project."
For Wolfe, watching the project take shape is extremely fulfilling.
"Working on a job like this is especially rewarding, because of how the end-user will use the space. HudsonAlpha's mission is to develop and apply scientific advances to health, agriculture, learning and commercialization. It's a very special feeling to know the space we are building is going to be used for things like cancer research and agricultural developments.
"At Brasfield & Gorrie, we are passionate about building strong communities, and it's easy to see how this project improves not only Huntsville, but the world around us." CEG
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