There’s an art to expansion projects. Kevin Williams, vice president of science and technology for St. Louis-based McCarthy Building Companies, knows this.
“The biggest challenge is connecting the expansion to the existing building,” Williams said. “You don’t want the project to feel like two separate buildings, the existing building and the new building. Instead, you want a free flow from one building to the next.”
McCarthy, as construction manager, is meeting that challenge today with the $45 million expansion of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in Creve Coeur, Mo. McCarthy originally built the center – a research institute with a mission to improve the human condition through plant science – in 2001. McCarthy’s 79,000-square-foot addition, the construction of which will begin in early 2014, will include flexible research laboratories, core facilities and additional growth space. The expansion is scheduled to open in 2015.
The architects with which McCarthy works will design spaces that flow from one building to the next. But it’s up to McCarthy to make sure that the science center’s existing systems function well with the new ones added in the expansion.
“Our expertise comes in to ensure that the new systems tie in well with the existing plant,” Williams said. “We want a good air flow. We want the HVAC systems to work well throughout the entire expanded center. That is such a critical piece of lab design and construction. Our job is to make sure everything is well thought out.”
In other words, it’s important for the center’s addition to be aesthetically pleasing – and, according to preliminary plans, it will be – but it’s even more important that it works.
Then there’s the second main challenge of an addition such as this: How do construction crews build the new addition without disrupting the work taking place at the original building?
Not surprisingly, it comes down to communication and planning, Williams said.
“It all starts with a thoughtful initial plan,” Williams said. “As the design develops, we’ll be working with the designers on phasing the plan so that it causes as little disruption as possible. We’ll identify the main areas where construction could impact the existing building, and we’ll communicate that with the folks who will be impacted. We want to make sure that they understand what we’ll be doing at all times and what it means to them.”
As an example, McCarthy officials will tell the researchers and staffers at the science center what they’ll be feeling when construction crews install foundations. They’ll tell them what the vibrations they’ll feel are and when they’ll feel them. The center’s staffers can then share with McCarthy when such loud vibrations would interfere with their work. Once McCarthy’s supervisors know this, they can schedule installation when it would cause the least amount of disruption.
“Communication is always key,” Williams said. “When working on outside walls at an existing lab, the importance is even more heightened.”