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Best Higher Education/Research Project: UW Molecular Building Accelerates Construction Phases

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Photo by Benjamin Benschneider
Photo by Benjamin Benschneider
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Merging the start of the second phase of construction into the ongoing construction of the first phase of the 160,000-sq-ft University of Washington Molecular Engineering & Sciences Building was a good challenge, says Bob Vincent, project manager for Seattle-based Hoffman Construction, the general contractor.

As architects and contractors started design and construction of the 90,000-sq-ft first phase, the economic downturn offered significant cost savings compared with the original estimate.

The university opted to use the newly available funds to get an early start on the 70,000-sq-ft second phase.

"They said, 'Wow, what can we do with this?'" Vincent says. "One of the things they challenged us with was: What are the smart things we can do right now in phase one to prepare for phase two?"

By accelerating the design and preconstruction of phase two, crews were able, for example, to extend a large electrical feed underground. "Had we implemented that after the [first phase] job, we would have been really crowded and had to run it overhead instead of underground," Vincent says.

By capitalizing on the cost savings, Hoffman was able to build out all 160,000 sq ft in the initial phase. "Sure, it was challenging to implement as it went, but it was a good problem to have," Vincent says. "What's great is they are now able to use the building and research is happening."

Part of reaching the project's sustainable goals—the building was targeted at LEED Gold—called for the use of natural ventilation, an uncommon practice in life science research centers. But natural ventilation calls for slower air movement—from 10 to six air exchanges per hour, resulting in a 40% reduction in energy use associated with ventilating, heating and cooling—which improves research conditions.

A separate yet equally challenging task was relocating a 100-year-old historic wooden structure to another site on campus, which required shoring up all five floors of a parking structure to handle the weight of the building that crossed over it during transport.

University of Washington Molecular Engineering & Sciences Building, Seattle

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