Construction of neuroscience building persists despite pandemic – Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis


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Collaboration key to keep the project on time and on budget

Huy Mach / Kristina Sauerwein

Global anger over COVID-19 began to escalate in early 2020, just as Washington University in St. Louis was due to open one of the most important neuroscience research buildings in the United States and one of the most critical installation projects in the history of the School of Medicine.

However, while the virus shut down the university that spring – in fact, the world – it failed to derail progress on the 11-story state-of-the-art building designed to feed and do advancing some of the world’s most advanced brain research. and the nervous system of the body.

After years of planning, workers inaugurated the research center in the spring of 2020, and the building located at 4370 Duncan Ave. is scheduled to open in July 2023.

Not only did the project stay on schedule, but it is on budget of $ 616 million at a time when costs have skyrocketed due to the pandemic’s significant disruption to the construction workforce and workers. material supply chains.

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Melissa Rockwell-Hopkins visits the construction site of the Neuroscience Research Building.

“It all comes down to the collaboration and planning between our project team, project stakeholders, and our design and construction partners,” said Melissa Rockwell-Hopkins, Associate Vice Chancellor of the Faculty of Medicine and Dean associate of operations and facilities management. “Frequent communication, problem solving and adaptability have been essential to staying on track. “

Such qualities represent the heart of the neuroscience center. The 609,000 square foot building will bring together nearly 900 researchers. “Neighborhoods” organized around research themes – among them, drug addiction, neurodegeneration, sleep and circadian rhythm, synapses and circuits, and neurogenomics and neurogenetics – will bring together people with common interests from several departments. .

Additionally, the building’s location at the east end of the medical campus is intended to inspire health-focused entrepreneurial activities in the 200-acre Cortex innovation community, one of the world’s fastest growing business and technology hubs. faster in the United States.

“This structure is one of the most ambitious in the university, and it is poised to have positive and profound effects on the health and quality of life of thousands of people with neurological disorders,” said Rockwell -Hopkins. “Construction delays, even during a pandemic, just aren’t an option. “

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Construction of the neuroscience research building is progressing in early August 2021. Downtown St. Louis and L’Arche can be seen in the background.

The key to any construction project on time and on budget is planning – for the necessary equipment, materials and labor, and for contingencies, such as disasters, inclement weather and other scenarios. the worst (a global pandemic is admissible).

Preplanning began five years ago for the neuroscience center and included developing a strategic plan, geotechnical surveys and site assessments, as well as determining the cost, scope and schedule for the project. Also at the top of the list was the list of high-level contractors and sub-contractors. In 2020, the School of Medicine signed a $ 454 million contract with McCarthy Building Companies to oversee construction.

Steve Sobo, the executive project manager, recalled meeting with unions in 2011 to discuss upcoming medical school construction projects, including the neuroscience building, while urging unions to increase recruitment, training and apprenticeships to develop the local and diverse workforce.

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Steve Sobo visits the site where the neuroscience research building is being built.

“Even before COVID-19, Saint-Louis was one of the most difficult markets to find a skilled workforce due to high attrition rates and other factors,” said Sobo, also technical director. principal of investment projects and physical planning of the medical school. “The pandemic has exacerbated the labor shortage, but luckily we have been diligent in securing workers from the start. “

For the design, the university signed with the architectural firms Perkins + Will and CannonDesign. In the years leading up to the planned 2020 grand opening, operations and facilities management staff began locking in bids and sourcing lumber, steel and concrete.

It was no small feat. When the research center is completed, it will contain enough steel to stretch 2,125 miles, enough drywall to cover 31 football fields, and enough concrete to fill 6,500 trucks.

Early planning allowed the team to avoid skyrocketing costs for wood and other materials during the pandemic. However, delays in manufacturing supply chains presented additional challenges. “Things that used to take six weeks to get here now take six months,” Sobo said. “It has started to return to normal in some areas, but we are not taking any risks. We have already pre-ordered almost all of the equipment and materials we will need for the project and secured enough warehouse space for storage.

Rockwell-Hopkins added, “If we hadn’t planned together every possible problem so meticulously and hadn’t been so well organized, I estimate the project would have grown by 5% or more. Our success to date is the achievement of people aligned with the purpose, vision, mission and delivery process. McCarthy and Cannon have been essential partners in this process. As a result, the project started as planned, while ensuring the safety and health of their workers through the development of a COVID safety plan in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic. “

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Construction teams are working in mid-September 2021 on the neuroscience research building.

To accomplish this, operations and facilities management employees frequently consulted with infectious disease physicians in the Faculty of Medicine to implement protocols mandated by the university and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, elements of the jobsite safety plan included daily health checkups, masking, quarantine if necessary, robust contact tracing, rental of additional trailers to stagger schedules, and breaks to maintain a social distancing, hiring a full-time janitorial worker to clean and sanitize daily and using Zoom and other online tools to accommodate remote workers.

“We quickly learned to work remotely, and switching to remote planning also saved project costs,” Sobo said. “So you no longer have to pay for parking or book planes or hotels for meetings, which can add up quickly on a project like this. It also saved time. No round trip from downtown St. Louis, no walking from the parking garage. We have discovered some fantastic online tools that have increased our efficiency and are here to stay.

Medical campus staff and contract workers also had access to COVID-19 tests and vaccines once they became available. “We’re even doing outreach with local unions to educate members in the region about the benefits of vaccines,” said Mitchell Snyder, senior project manager for Building Neuroscience. “We haven’t had many cases of COVID-19, and of those we’ve had, almost all of them have been traced to outside transmission. “

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Construction teams are working in mid-September 2021 on the neuroscience research building.

Next steps in the project include expanding the building upwards, installing drywall and constructing a 1,839-space parking garage, as well as constructing a pedestrian link connecting the garage to the hospital. children’s store in St. Louis and a separate utility plant.

“Like the medical campus as a whole, our department thrives on collaboration, communications, and creative thinking,” said Rockwell-Hopkins. “Applying such qualities to the construction of the neuroscience building contributes to the ultimate goal of the medical school: to advance and achieve significant breakthroughs in science and medicine to improve human health. “

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The site of the neuroscience research building under construction in mid-September 2021.

The 1,700 physicians on the Washington University School of Medicine faculty are also on the medical staff at Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s Hospitals. The School of Medicine is a leader in medical research, education, and patient care, consistently ranking among the nation’s top medical schools by US News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s Hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked with BJC HealthCare.

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