RPI Kicks Off $255M Campus Construction Plan

Fri December 20, 2002 - Northeast Edition
Mary S. Yamin-Garone

“It will be a birthplace of discovery; a home for world-class faculty. It will rank among the world’s most advanced facilities for science and engineering research.”

That is how Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) President Shirley Ann Jackson describes the 218,000-sq.-ft. (20,253 sq m) biotechnology and interdisciplinary studies center being erected in the heart of the RPI campus in Troy, NY.

Officials hope the five-story center will increase research activity and provide a state-of-the-art resource for more than 350 researchers whose work focuses on functional tissue engineering, regenerative medicine, integrated systems biology, bioinformatics, biocatalysis and metabolic engineering. “RPI is universally recognized as one of the premier American universities for research and innovation in the high-technology fields. This project will solidify that reputation,” remarked Jackson.

Scheduled for completion in 2004, the $80-million facility is being constructed by McCarthy Building Companies headquartered in St. Louis, MO. It will include a mix of laboratories, office space and an auditorium. An atrium skylight also has been designed for the building, and although this is not an unusual feature it will be a noticeable element of the structure.

Myriad Challenges

Designed by the joint venture team of Burt Hill Kosar Rittelmann of Butler, PA, and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson of Pittsburgh, the center is being constructed on 15th Street, adjacent to the George M. Low Center for Industrial Innovation. It has been designed to mirror the historic architectural features of RPI’s Quad residence hall at the opposite end of the street.

“That is a major challenge of this project,” explained Bruce Adams, RPI’s director of communications, “trying to build a 21st century building on a 19th century campus and have it look architecturally at home. The residence halls at the northern end of the street were built in the 20s and 30s. They are classic Harvard brick university buildings [that were] characteristic of most campuses in America during the first half of the 20th century.

“In the new biotechnology center, the facade facing the street will parallel the residences at the other end so if you were to stand back and look at 15th Street it would appear that the buildings book-ended each other,” he said.

According to Blaine Warner, project manager of McCarthy Construction, this was accomplished “in the design of the building and the choice of materials. The brick they are using is the most efficient and will match a good portion of the buildings on site. Two local contractors can provide it, which keeps prices competitive.”

Consideration also had to be given to the logistics of constructing a project of this magnitude in the center of an urban campus while classes are in session. “There were challenges in how to do this without being disruptive. You’re digging, blasting, moving tons of earth and trucks are traveling up and down the grounds. It’s challenging to do that in such a way that students and teachers aren’t distracted,” Adams said.

So far so good, said Warner. “There haven’t been any problems yet. A security fence was installed around the site. Truckers enter and leave by a selected route. Street parking is limited to delivery people. Workers park off site and are shuttled back and forth. To address the city’s concerns about the noise level affecting classes the contract specifies that if a tower crane was needed it had to be electric.”

A Rocky Foundation

While performing the preliminary work in May crews made an interesting discovery.

“We found that in addition to caisson and drilled piles, a portion of the foundation would have to be built on rock,” Warner explained. “We knew the rock was down there. What we didn’t realize was that the thrust of the rock was on such a sharp incline. Now that hill is a hole.

“The sub-grade itself is difficult [to work with] but when you add the combination of rock and deep foundation that must be installed, it increases the degree of difficulty,” he added.

To perform the considerable amount of excavating crews are using a Cat 350 track hoe, John Deere 829E LC track hoe, Cat D4C dozer, Cat 416 C backhoe and a Cat IT662G loader. A DK 625 (tracked), Watson 44 (tracked) and a Double L (truck) are being used to lay the foundation.

Part of a Larger Picture

The biotechnology and interdisciplinary studies center is one part of a $255-million campus expansion program. Plans also call for a 500-car parking garage and a center for electronic media and performing arts (EMPA). The 160,000-sq.-ft. (14,864 sq m) EMPA will incorporate a 1,200-seat theater, a 400-seat recital hall and a series of “black box” theaters in the 100- to 200-seat size. Design of the new building will be completed next spring with groundbreaking slated for the fall. The parking garage will be completed by July 2003.

RPI, founded in 1824, is the nation’s oldest technological university. The school offers degrees in engineering, the sciences, information technology, architecture, management and the humanities and social sciences. Its faculty is recognized for pre-eminence in research and teaching. The Institute is well known for its success in transferring technology from the laboratory to the marketplace.