School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

Eyes of Texas upon UTD as research building prepares to make ascent

Second in an occasional series

RICHARDSON, Texas (March 18, 2005) – At the rate of one floor per month, the University of Texas at Dallas’ upcoming Natural Science and Engineering Research Building should peer above ground by the end of April and don a roof atop its four stories by mid-August, according to Thomas Lund, resident construction manager with the state’s Office of Facilities Planning and Construction (OFPC).

“This is going to be a signature building in the state of Texas when it’s completed. It’s an extremely exciting design. A world-class research building wrapped in a world-class design,” Lund said.

OFPC has the responsibility to ensure the research facility will be built according to plans and specifications approved by U.T. System and U.T. Dallas. UTD is scheduled to occupy the facility by the end of December 2006.

“OFPC’s responsibility is not to direct or manage the subcontractors’ daily means and methods, i.e., tell them how to do their work. It’s to ensure that what they are building follows the design intent of the construction documents, is compliant with all applicable Life Safety and Building Codes, and meets or exceeds U.T. System standards for construction quality,” Lund said.

To highlight the importance of this project, Lund said that his plate has been cleared of all other duties so he can give his undivided attention to the task at hand.

In a sense, the eyes of Texas are upon us.

“This project is one of the most visible projects under construction in the state of Texas today. It has Gov. [Rick] Perry’s interest because he helped fund $50 million of it through the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF) in support of ‘Project Emmitt,’ ” the much-publicized economic-development agreement between the state, Texas Instruments and UTD, Lund said.

Construction crews already have met several important January and February deadlines: they completed paving the parking lot and excavation of the basement on schedule, and they completed drilling and pouring the foundation piers ahead of schedule.

“Weir Brothers Inc., the subcontractor awarded the mass excavation work, has removed roughly 50,000 cubic yards of dirt out of the basement. A hole that is slightly more than an acre in size and roughly 25 feet deep.

“We have an extremely accelerated schedule. This is a fast-track project, which means we’ve actually started construction before all the construction documents, drawings and specifications are complete.

“We are looking at an 18- to 20-month construction cycle as opposed to a normal 24- to 30-month schedule on projects of similar size and complexity,” Lund said.

Risk-taking kept at a minimum

 When asked whether any risk was involved in starting the 175,000-square-foot project without all the construction documents in hand, Lund answered, “Yes and no.”

“The key to successful completion of a fast-track project is in the coordination of the construction documents with the phased construction activity. The architects and engineers know the sequence required to construct a building so they begin with those drawings and specifications necessary to mobilize the project, excavate soils, drill and pour piers, form and pour footings, grade beams and foundation walls.

“The risk you take in using a fast-track delivery process is all about controlling programming changes, material changes and construction detail changes, as subsequent construction document releases are completed. The project team, including the end users, must be focused on minimizing changes that could impact work already in place,” Lund said.

Centex Construction Company, the contractor, is bidding the project in four Construction Document Releases (CDRs), CDR1 through CDR 4, Lund said.

“They have completed award of eight subcontracts for CDR1 and CDR2. These subcontracts cover the mass excavation, parking lot paving, and concrete work for the building, including the piers, footings, grade beams, foundations, and concrete structure all the way up through the concrete roof deck.

“CDR3 was bid the first week of March. The bid proposals for the 11 bid packages are currently being analyzed by Centex. CDR3 will cover subcontracts that will provide all the exterior skin systems, such as pre-cast concrete, aluminum wall panel systems, Rymex anodized stainless steel shingles, and Curtainwall and Glazing systems. The work under these subcontracts will ‘dry-in’ and complete the building shell.

“The final document release, CDR4, consisting of 44 separate bid packages, will cover the remainder of the building fit-up, and equipment buy-outs, including all interior finishes, installation of the electrical systems, fire alarm systems, telecommunication/data systems all the mechanical systems, plumbing systems, fire protection systems, and specialized requirements for labs such as gas piping, special exhaust systems, special drain systems and lab fixtures,” he said.

Lund said that so far, everything is on track.

Not your average building

Those closest to the project say the research building will reflect the latest in modern design.

“It is a complex building. The exterior wall systems are not simple. There’s a certain level of complexity in this building design that you don’t see in most projects.

“The curtain wall is a customized design. The sloping standing seam metal roof is segmented, curved, tiered, folded and bent. The exterior skin surface is filled with indentations, deep shadow boxes, cantilevered surfaces, undulations and facets, both vertically and horizontally.

“It’s not ‘just’ a simple building; from its geometries, it’s very elegant,” Lund said.

Lund, who started working for OFPC in July, 2004, after building more than 9 million square feet of buildings for Nortel Networks across the United States, described the building site as fairly normal with a few surprises in its geotechnical make-up.

“I am a native of Iowa, where I am used to seeing rich black topsoil 2 to 3 feet deep before you reach the sandy clay subsoil. We experienced black topsoil 5 to 6 feet deep in some areas of this site, somewhat unusual for this part of Texas.

“Rippable gray and tan limestone was encountered roughly 20 feet below grade over most of the site. This type of limestone can be removed with heavy equipment, eliminating the need for blasting,” Lund said.

Another plus for this project, Lund said, is the rock under the basement area.

“The project has several laboratories programmed to go into the basement. The equipment going into these labs have very specific requirements for vibration control. By setting the basement floor [slab-on-grade] on top of the rock [over a thin gravel base course cushion], we can meet the requirements for vibration control, and inexpensively support the heavy pieces of equipment that would require additional structure and cost if we were to have designed them to go onto the upper floors,” he said.

“The project is blessed with a great team. Centex is doing an excellent job. They come with a lot of history working with OFPC and UTD. They built the south wing of the Engineering and Computer Science Building, and they are currently building a small addition to the Activity Center, and the Phase II renovation in the Founders Building. They know OFPC processes.

“PageSoutherlandPage (PSP) is the architect of record. To date they have done an outstanding job keeping the Construction Document process coordinated and on schedule. PSP has partnered with another award-winning design team out of Los Angeles, Zimmer Gunsul Frasca (ZGF).

ZGF was named ‘Firm of the Year’ by the American Institute of Architects in 1991 and is recognized in the industry as one of the leading ‘academic research-and-development' building type design teams in the United States. They’ve done work for University of California System, University of Southern California, Cornell University, University of Arizona, Duke University and the University of San Diego, among others,” Lund said.

  • Updated: December 19, 2007