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UBC Life Sciences Building upgrades a logistical challenge

Nathan Medcalf
UBC Life Sciences Building upgrades a logistical challenge
SCOTT CONSTRUCTION — There were many unknowns and different design interpretations of the UBC Life Sciences building for Scott Construction to tackle and plan around.

The University of British Columbia (UBC) best-in-the-nation Life Sciences program is upgrading its Life Sciences facilities by renovating two existing wings, while tearing down one other, and then renovating another wing. The university’s Renew program prioritizes refurbishing old buildings instead of tearing them down.

The Life Sciences building comprises of four wings that envelop a court yard and houses state-of-the-art laboratories, aquaria, research spaces, classrooms, offices and more.

Scott Construction is the general contractor of the project, which is expected to be completed in 2019.

“We are the construction managers/general contractors on the project. We manage all the trades, budget, schedules and quality of work,” says Trenton Berger, Project Manager, Scott Construction Group.

Scott Construction demolished the existing centre building. In the North Wing, they gutted the interior and exterior, but left the structure in place. Then they excavated all around the building and seismically upgraded the building as part of a complete building retrofit and redesign.

“In order to seismically upgrade the building to new code/standards in preparation for the next big earthquake, we drilled into existing concrete, added more rebar and concrete to make everything bigger and thicker. Then we add exterior plates and steel, so the building can take greater forces of compression and contortion, as well as different lateral movements,” says Berger.

Seismic upgrades and both interior and exterior improvements were among the work done on the UBC Life Sciences building which has four wings.
SCOTT CONSTRUCTION — Seismic upgrades and both interior and exterior improvements were among the work done on the UBC Life Sciences building which has four wings.

They also constructed a brand-new East Wing, which is a life science teaching lab. The South and West wings remained almost untouched, except where the buildings tied into the center building.

“We had to upgrade and redo the interior of the South and West (wings) where the centre building tied in. They also had to install a new generator outside the South Wing and plumb all four buildings for it. They are also providing all the landscape work.

“We manage the work by breaking the job down into two big jobs and five smaller jobs,” says Berger.

Scott Construction says there were three extraordinary challenges on this job: access, contamination and unknown conditions.

The drawings for the North Building were drawn in the 70’s and they were hand-sketched, so they sometimes provided only the approximate location of items and didn’t include information about more recent refurbishments or other changes to the buildings.

“There were so many unknowns and different design interpretations that we have more than 500 RFI and more than 100 site instructions,” says Berger.

Therefore, the designers, Diamond Schmitt Architects, hired local consultants to manage all the paperwork to deal with all the changes caused by the numerous unknown site conditions. “There are so many changes, we had to add more staff, work more hours, have more meetings and do some intensive problem solving in order to keep making progress.”

And, the company is making progress on this project despite only having limited access to the site.

“There is only one access road in and one access road out, so to manage that challenge we had to be diligent at communicating road access needs and coordinating how and when deliveries can take place,” says Berger.

The only other access is from a busy street with a lot of pedestrian traffic.

“There are restrictions to running a truck on the road, so we have to be proactive with UBC, user groups who use the facilities and the trades working on the project about when we needed access to that road, so it could be shut down to non-construction traffic. That’s a big challenge; you have a lot of supplies and a lot of equipment, such as telehandlers and trucks. And, for efficiency and safety reasons, all groups have to be on the same page.”

The third major challenge was the safe and responsible removal of contaminated items and ensuring all remaining items are non-contaminated. Several building materials that were removed during the demolition stage, including tiles, insulation, caulking and asbestos pipe were contaminated. Then, contamination degraded off the pipes and got into the soil.

“Before demolition, we had to line all the soil in the basement with poly and plywood so the asbestos and dust wouldn’t fly up. Then we had to carefully scrape and excavate the contaminated soil,” says Berger.

Despite several big challenges, the project is progressing. And, as a result of them, Scott Construction has proven themselves as a competent and creative problem solver in the construction industry.

“There were a lot of unknowns and we were constantly learning and rising to new challenges all the way through,” says Berger.

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