Already a commanding presence high on the east bench of the Salt Lake Valley overlooking the University of Utah Campus, the trademark beige glass block and glass facade of the Huntsman Cancer Institute is growing. Construction of the Primary Children’s and Families’ Cancer Research Center began in July 2014, and the $100-million project is scheduled for completion in spring 2017. The new building will be the fourth addition to the HCI campus, which currently includes laboratories, both inpatient and outpatient hospitals, offices and educational facilities.
“Our mission is to understand cancer from its beginnings, and this new facility will help us fulfill several points of that mission,” says Scott Lloyd, senior director of finance and administration for HCI. “This will almost double our wet lab space. It will allow us to expand our work on clinical trials, and it brings together some staff that are now scattered around at different locations. This phase is really being driven by need. We are essentially out of space.”
As with all HCI buildings, the 230,000-sq-ft, seven-story addition (with one level below grade) was designed by Salt Lake City-based Architectural Nexus.
General contractor Jacobsen Construction, also of Salt Lake City, was awarded the CM/GC contract by the Utah Dept. of Facilities Construction and Management, which oversees the HCI as part of the University of Utah campus.
Jacobsen was the contractor for the first phase of the HCI, built in 1999 after a $100-million founding donation from industrialist/philanthropist Jon Huntsman Sr.
Lloyd says that before embarking on the design of Phase 4, he, along with architect Jon Erdmann of Architectural Nexus, evaluated the needs of the institute and made site visits to other research facilities.
“We wanted to meet our needs in the most novel and interesting way we could,” Lloyd says. “We traveled to places like MIT and Howard Hughes Medical Center and gathered ideas. Eventually, this space came together through the collective vision and leadership here and from the architects.”
Erdmann says the intent was to create a space that encourages collaboration and interaction among researchers.
“We have an open design for the laboratories, and there are collaboration spaces throughout the labs and public spaces designed for researchers to come together to share ideas and hopefully spark new thinking in their work,” he says. Erdmann adds that unlike other HCI buildings, this one is almost exclusively for researchers. “There will be public lobbies, and we have a 100-seat auditorium, but this building is really designed to accommodate researchers and conferences for researchers and caregivers to share their knowledge and experiences.”
Starting With a Bang
Working on a sloping site adjacent to an operating hospital and a busy college campus hasn’t been easy. The Jacobsen team first had to reconfigure the access road at the south end of the site that reaches Phase 3 of the HCI and also provides access to the facility’s loading dock.
Additionally, two cooling towers, each 55 ft tall by 50 ft in diameter, needed to be relocated. Preparing the site required extensive excavation into the hillside and included microblasting to reach 20 ft below the grade of existing facilities. The footings are nearly 60 ft from the highest point of the slope.
“We had to sequence all these things in a fashion that didn’t disrupt operations at the other buildings,” says Jacobsen project executive Scott Braithwaite. “We have the existing institute 30 feet away from us and working laboratories adjacent to us.”
Jacobsen called on the experience of project manager John Wright, who directed construction on the first phase of the HCI as well as four other significant laboratory projects.
“We did one blast at night and then two during the day,” says Wright. “Even though we could contain the vibration to some extent, and the debris, they have very sensitive equipment in the HCI. Even vibrations we might not think are that big can throw them out of calibration. We worked with the hospital to coordinate so they had at least a week’s notice before we did anything.”
Wright says close coordination with the surrounding buildings will need to continue since the team will eventually be connecting the new HVAC system to the electrical, high-pressure hot water and medical gas systems that serve the wider medical campus.
“We’ve worked hard to limit our impact on the hospital and the campus. We’ve poured concrete at 3 in the morning and had steel delivered at off hours. It is always a challenge,” says Wright.
He says that moving the cooling towers required placing 62 micropiles in the hillside to create a stable foundation.
“There is good bedrock here, but there are places where it is fractured, and that was the case in the area where we had to move the cooling towers,” he says.
In addition to the piles, the team had to build an extensive tie-back wall that allows for about 3 ft of separation between the building and the hillside, says structural engineer and senior project engineer Jesse Malan of Salt Lake City-based Reaveley Engineers + Associates. The firm worked as the consulting engineer on all phases of the HCI.
“We had to have those tie-back walls otherwise you would have four levels of lateral pressure on that building,” which would greatly drive up the costs, says Malan. “From the tie-back wall, we have about a 3-foot moat between the hillside and the building.”
The Phase 4 building will also be separated from existing buildings, connected by only two 30-ft-long sky bridges at levels four and six.
Wright says Jacobsen has installed similar sky bridges on other recent projects, such as the latest addition to nearby Primary Children’s Hospital and at City Creek Center, and the team is working out the logistics of placing these two.
“Like the others we’ve done, they will be fabricated off site, and we’ll move them up here and lift them in place with a crane,” Wright says. “We are just working out if we are going to move them in one piece or two right now.”
Just as mitigating vibrations from blasting was a chief concern for builders, controlling vibrations in the structure itself is crucial for researchers, says Jeff Miller, principal engineer from Reaveley.
“This is a combination laboratory and office space, and in the labs there is very sensitive equipment, so we needed a much stiffer floor,” he says. “We did some studies with Jacobsen and looked at reinforced concrete structure as well as what it would take to make a steel floor work. It showed the steel would save us nearly $50,000 and increase the speed of erecting the building. We upsized the beams in the west laboratory space and made them stiffer. We also made the concrete on the floors thicker and heavier, and those things together controlled the vibration to the right levels. The office spaces we could design just for human comfort.”
Miller says larger steel beams were also designed for cantilever sections at the south end of the building.
To accommodate the open floor plan and expansive, west-facing curtain wall, particularly on the top two floors, Miller says engineers had to eliminate shear walls and switched to a steel-brace framing system.
Standing on a newly poured deck on the fifth floor in the opening that will eventually be filled with a floor-to-ceiling glass curtain wall uncluttered by structural bracing, Wright gestures to the expansive view of the Salt Lake Valley. “Can you imagine being a researcher here and having views like this?” he says. “If this were an office building, it would go for some of the highest prices in the city. It is rewarding to work on something like this because you know the people who will be working here will be saving lives.” This latest addition to the HCI was funded by donations from the Huntsman family, Intermountain Health Care, the state of Utah and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The LDS Church’s extensive genealogical records have been integral to cancer research at HCI, officials from HCI say.