Originally posted Friday, 23 August 2013

This project was the conversion of a historic 252,000 square foot RJ Reynolds warehouse into a state-of-the art biotech research and innovation center. The RJ Reynolds building was originally constructed in two phases—one in 1937 and one in 1963—but both were connected on the same lot. The new facility, which features around 80 percent class-A laboratory space, includes extensive wet labs and support spaces, a vivarium, offices, and a large conference center suite with state-of-the-art communication and AV capabilities. The new building also includes a large skylight that sits atop a 7,200 square foot, three-story atrium; the corporate offices for Wake Forest Innovation Quarter; a local credit union branch; as well as incubator research space to help foster and support startup companies.

Project Description

02-WakeForest2The first part of the project focused on a five-story building constructed in 1937. The building featured a distinctive glass block exterior and concrete structure. The glass block exterior is classified as historic, and extensive steps were taken to preserve and repair the glass block façade on the east, south, and west sides of the building. In the end, all of the 65,869 glass blocks in the new building are 1937 originals. However, large portions of the glass block façade were damaged or missing, so the glass blocks had to be removed by hand and replaced with original blocks salvaged from the north façade.

The second part of the project was the three-story building constructed in 1963, which featured a brick façade and cast-in-place concrete structure. The façade, which previously a limited number of small windows, was modified by adding numerous windows for natural lighting, and a new curtain wall was added to the main entrance to replace what was previously a plain brick wall. In addition to the windows, this part of the project featured the addition of a 7,200 square foot, three-story interior atrium with a large skylight. The huge half-barrel skylight used 514 pieces of tinted, insulated glass.

The design required significant structural demolition, along with the installation of new structural elements, to prepare building for its new use. The entire concrete third floor of this building had to be surgically removed and re-installed with a steel structure with elevation that was 18 inches higher to provide enough floor-to-floor clearance for the building systems. The existing second floor only covered half the footprint of the new building, and the additional area was in-filled with new steel framing as well.

The interior of both buildings was stripped down to the building’s basic structure. This required the buildings to be fully gutted along with extensive abatement. Complete new building interior finishes and furnishings were installed, along with new mechanical, electrical, and fire-protection systems to bring the building up to current code and serve the building’s laboratory function.

Throughout the construction of both sections of the building, the development team worked with the National Park Service (NPS) and the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to develop the historical review and criteria to be followed for the project. In the end, the new Biotech Place was accepted by SHPO and NPS as a certified historical project and qualifies for the appropriate historical tax credits and recognition.

Overall Project Management

The project had a very aggressive completion date to make the building a feasible endeavor for both the Owner and the tenant’s needs. The project started in 2010 and was mandated to be substantially complete before the end of 2011. Meeting this deadline was the most important goal, and Wexford’s Project Director took the time and effort to set milestones for design, budget reviews of design, and construction activities to make sure the entire team stayed on track.

Moreover, Wexford’s project management team was eminently responsive to the need for quick information, decisions, and issue resolution. The Project Director was involved in every project meeting and copied on every email. He was aware of everything, including design, schedule, costs, and construction obstacles. He was always a phone call or email away if an issue arose. Most importantly, he was willing to make quick and confident decisions, and he carried the risk and ownership of those decisions, allowing the rest of the team to focus on solutions.

Project Scheduling: Wexford authorized construction overtime, shift work, and weekend work, which were all necessary to meet the completion date. The Project Director requested weekly schedule updates, walked the building several times a day when on site, and Wexford’s rep helped foster a sense of pride in the project. This Owner involvement was instrumental in the successful outcome of the entire undertaking. The project was eventually completed in only 548 calendar days on December 14th, a full 17 days ahead of schedule.

Cost Management: Throughout the design phase, Wexford took a very hands-on approach to managing the design to ensure that as the design progressed, it did so keeping the budget in mind. This was achieved by the CM generating a complete estimate at each of the three major design milestones (conceptual, schematic design, and design-development phases), so the Owner, designer, and contractor could each examine the budget in detail. If any item significantly increased from a previous version, the entire team evaluated the change to ensure the cost change was legitimate. In the end, the project came in almost $80,000 under budget due.

The most difficult aspect related to managing costs was working around the ever-approaching completion date. Considering that time extensions were not an option, Wexford worked with the CM and design team to come up with creative, affordable solutions to solve problems without losing time. Early on in the project, Wexford made a conscious decision to break the project up into eight different sub-phases, each with a milestone for documents to be issued for construction. By breaking the project up into phases, Wexford minimized the risk of one phase holding up the whole project.

Quality Management: The CM established management teams to focus on each phase of the project and closely work with the Owner’s construction project director, who was responsible for overall coordination and quality control of the project. Phased construction packages were issued for permits and construction, including work such as general gutting and demolition documents, core and shell building documents, and a standalone package for the teledata and A/V systems. The CM also held daily management meetings, weekly subcontractor meetings, and provided detailed scheduling information to all of the subcontractor teams to establish and coordinate work in various areas of the buildings.

Building Information Modeling (BIM) was utilized on the project due to the complexity of the numerous mechanical systems required for the project’s heavy lab use. Additionally, because this was an existing building, the depth of the structural beams, the size of the ductwork, and the required ceiling heights resulted in extremely tight conditions for the installation of the mechanical systems. Utilization of BIM prior to actual construction in the field, as well as having the entire construction team meet weekly to review location and installation of the systems, helped to avoid conflicts among the different trades.

Overall Project Success

While this project was unique due to the historical renovation, tax credits, and an exceptionally aggressive schedule, the main project team (Owner, Architect, MEP Engineers, and CM) had worked together before, were familiar with how Wexford’s business model functions, knew the strengths of each firm, and had an existing relationship built on performance and trust. This helped facilitate the true team approach needed for this project’s success.

Decision making was a group affair. There were bi-weekly meetings of the Owner, Architect, and Contractor in addition to conference calls as needed during the non-meeting weeks and weekly visits by the design team QC inspectors. Any issues were quickly addressed, discussed during the meetings with the team walking out to the job site and reviewing the actual issue in field if required. This resulted in rapid resolutions and eliminated issues lingering without appropriate action that can happen with a multi-tiered decision/approval process.

The design team spent extensive time with the end users to gather their input, understand their needs, and make certain the design was as complete and thorough as possible. To address the inevitable construction changes, Wexford accommodated as many design modifications as possible before and during the earlier stages of construction. However, once the project progressed closer to the substantial completion milestone, Wexford set a design change/additional tenant-requested-work cutoff date. Any additional requests during the last few months were deferred until after the project was complete to ensure the design and construction teams could finish the work they had already started. This ultimately cost Wexford more money to go back and re-work some areas, but that impact was minimal compared to missing the mandatory completion date.

The project had multiple tenants, which made user input difficult to coordinate, as questions arose and requests for tenant changes were generated. Spread across multiple phases, including overlap between core and shell and tenant design, created an additional headache to the already complicated project. The project team worked together to interface with the users for additional input as fast as possible to avoid rework and construction delays. The design team was based out of town, so in addition to biweekly onsite meetings, conference calls and emails were used to coordinate with users, and the construction team followed up in person to help move the decision process along. This kept the construction team up to date with what was coming, assisted the design team in finalizing design as quickly as possible, and the Owner made executive decisions as needed if user input was not available in time to maintain the completion schedule.

Project Complexity

With as many phases of construction as there were being built at the same time, each phase had its own contracts and subcontracts. This was necessary, as each phase had to be bid out to account for the multiple funding sources between core and shell and tenant financing. This lead to the scenario that not only was there multiple phases of construction overlapping in the same space, but also multiple subcontractors were performing the same trade between the core & shell and tenant phases. This entire process required extensive project supervision in keeping both the contract management and the accounting requirements accurate along with quality control supervision in the field. Wexford’s Project Director not only brought on board more personnel for the onsite construction team, but he also sent designers down for weekly site visits to assist in the massive coordination effort.

The speed of the schedule with the amount of work underway led to shortages both in available construction manpower and the local jurisdiction’s inspectors. Scopes of work were awarded to multiple companies for the same trade to balance risk of manpower shortages, and the project team met often during design and construction with the local inspectors to keep them fully aware of the project design and required schedule.

The project was designed as a historical renovation and fell under the review of the NPS and SHPO. The design of the interior, exterior, modifications, and even the placement of mechanical equipment of the roof was subject to this review. The design team sent multiple packages for review, but construction had to begin before final review of the complete design. The design team made adjustments based on expected review comments, and the Owner hired a historical consultant, but with multiple tenant phases and a slow review process, construction had to begin before final review of the complete design. The design team made adjustments based on expected review comments, the Owner took the risk of releasing the work without a final ruling from the review officials, and the construction team implemented the changes on overtime and shift work to maintain the schedule. Educated decisions with a strong team approach of the right people trusting in each other’s capabilities and support allowed proactive methods to overcome even the most difficult last-minute obstacles.


The Wake Forest Biotech Place was awarded LEED Gold Certification after final review. Numerous factors went into the project’s sustainability, with some of the more notable elements including:

Materials: The building is a renovation of an existing building, which has the lowest impact on virgin materials and sources. The facility kept 80 percent of existing walls, floors, and roofing structure in place. Construction Waste was diverted from landfill at a rate of over 95 percent for the entire project. Recycled and regional Materials were used wherever possible, consisting of over 30 percent and 21 percent respectively. Low-emitting materials such as paints, adhesives, sealants, and flooring were also used.

Energy Efficiency: The project had many hurdles to overcome regarding energy efficiency and thermal bridging, but the architect and mechanical engineer were able to come together and improve insulation, mechanical system efficiency, and thermal breaks wherever permissible. The Energy Model run for the building determined that the savings achieved through the mechanical system and complimentary building elements (insulation, glazing, etc.) is a cost savings of 31.42 percent and energy savings of 26.29 percent.

Site: The project is located on an infill site, reducing the strain on the municipality and the Owners to provide new connections to public services and public transportation. The site was designated as a Brownfield by the NC Department of the Environment & Natural Resources, and remediation was performed in accordance with the DEED restrictions to ensure a safe building and site. The roof and site hardscape are highly reflective materials, reducing the building’s heat island effect. As well, the landscaping, which features only native and adaptive vegetation, requires no irrigation.

Occupants: Ventilation rates are 30 percent over the ASHRAE standard, greatly increasing occupant comfort. Thermal comfort systems are designed to meet ASHRAE 55-2004 standards, and are available for all individual building spaces.

For its superior planning and management, Wexford Science & Technology was presented with COAA’s 2012 Project Leadership Silver Award for the new Wake Forest Biotech Place. For more information on the Biotech Place, visit www.wakehealth.edu/Biotech-Place