Nanoscience School Spurs Collaboration; Regional Economic Growth

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A coach has a whistle. A symphony conductor has a baton.  Both leaders use their special tools to smoothly integrate all the players into a beautiful whole.  Fortunately, a commercial construction team has Building Information Modeling. That, says Ken Grube of Samet Corp, is largely why the highly complex, $64 million  Joint School for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (JSNN) in Greensboro was completed successfully.

The JSNN building, at Gateway University Research Park, is a collaboration of North Carolina A & T State University and The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.. Users of this four-level, 105,000-square-foot building specialize in work at the molecular and atomic level. Nanoscience is the study of atoms and molecules smaller than 100 nanometers –or about 1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. City, county and state leaders anticipate long-range academic and regional economic benefits. They foresee the nanoscience school as a place where state-of-the-art learning and research will occur, sparking innovation and ultimately, business growth that benefits the region.

The JSNN’s fellow tenants at the Gateway University Research Park are the USDA’s East National Technology Support Center, and Advaero  LLC, a composites company that’s a commercial spin-off from North Carolina A&T State University’s Division of Research and Economic Development.

At the groundbreaking, UNCG Chancellor Linda Brady pointed out the value of these particular schools teaming up for the project. “By leveraging the strengths of our two universities and their historic significance, one, a historically black university, and the other, formerly the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina, we understand that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” she said, adding it’s “a united front for education, economic development and technological advancement.”

“The Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering is an exciting partnership between North Carolina A&T State University and the University o f North Carolina at Greensboro that builds on each institution’s educational and research strengths in engineering and science respectively. Through our collaborative efforts and the significant investments in world class faculty and educational and research facilities, we are positioned to more significantly aid in enhancing the economic competitiveness of the region through job creation” said A&T Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr.

Just as the pair of universities came together, a joint venture of construction professionals provided construction services. Samet Corporation, in Greensboro, has been a major player in the southeast construction market for more than 50 years. Its portfolio includes a wide range of industrial, retail, office, education, civic, religious and residential structures. The Barton Malow Company, a Southfield, MI contractor with special expertise in laboratories and research based facilities, and SRS Inc., Gallatin, TN, bringing both private and government work experience, participated in the joint venture.

One of the goals for the project was to double the number  of minority-owned companies that normally participate in a project of this type. That goal was not only met but exceeded. John Merrill, executive director of the Gateway University Research Park, reported 27 percent minority participation in the project.  “Gateway was established to promote economic development in the region and success in achieving significant minority participation is just one example of how we achieved that goal,” Merrill added.  Merrill also noted that more than 95 percent of the subcontracted firms were from the Triad area.

The key to that achievement was doing more than simply advertising for bidders, said Monte Edwards, executive vice president at SRS. “We really engaged the companies, for example, by making phone calls and having mixers to get to know them,” he said.  The construction managers also helped the companies do necessary paperwork and pre-qualify for bids, he said.

“We set out to engage local, small and minority business owners because that was very important to the owners. It was an express wish of the client, which we thought was great because those are our values, too,” added Edwards.

Construction of the JSNN project began in December 2009 and ended in December 2011. At times, as many as 450 workers were on site.

The attractive building, with its glass wall system and sleek angles, has lecture/seminar space, dedicated biophysics, chemistry and related areas, and other modern teaching features. What makes it extraordinary, however, is a 7,000-square-foot cleanroom with nine air handlers, which Grube calls “like a hospital on steroids.”

“This was a unique commercial project for anyone in the Southeast United States, because of the technical requirements for a Class 100 level cleanroom,” Grube said. Its complexities were far greater than a hospital.

When a project has such unusual requirements, requiring multiple managers and subcontractors, chaos could ensue. BIM ensured it didn’t.

“This project had so much piping and ductwork , if we hadn’t coordinated it with BIM we would still be building it right now. It eliminated conflicts and kept track of changes,” Grube said. “We were able to coordinate in the 3D platform before we put things together in the field. This was a textbook example of the value of using BIM for a project.”

AC Corp. of Greensboro was proud to perform the HVAC/mechanical work on the Nanoscience project.  Project manager Derek Bull, project manager of the Greensboro-based firm, said the company employed best practices in clean technology from beginning to end in the construction process.  “Building Information Modeling (BIM) 3-D modeling was necessary to ensure all the mechanical equipment fit into a very tight footprint, theoretically saving on change orders, waste and remakes in the field,” Bull said.

“Our office is only six miles away from the project site, so we were able to custom-build much of the equipment in our shop. The local economy benefited because all of our people working on the project live in the Triad region,” Bull added.

AC collaborated with the general contractor, electrical contractor and engineering team to complete the work on time and on budget.

Greensboro-based Absolute Recycling Contractors (ARC) handled the recycling needs of the high profile LEED project.  President Chad Morris said, “The goal of recycling 95% of the waste from the project would scare some companies away, as would the request to paint each dumpster a separate color to ease the separation of recyclables by the crew on the ground.  We had fun with it and even decided to make a special camouflaged dumpster as a salute to our troops.”

As the project came to a close and all of the information was compiled, ARC had recycled well over the 95% mark set for the project, helping the JSNN achieve 3 points toward LEED certification.

Reflecting on the project, Grube points out that the Greensboro area always has been known as a place for higher education, and the JSNN pushes that into the future. This level of facility and its research capabilities are going to “catapult” the area into the 21st Century.  He adds:  “It’s really going to open some doors. “

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