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Tight space was a challenge in building research centre

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by Jean Sorensen

The $27 million contract for the Robert H.N. Ho Research Centre had one major and ever-present challenge for general contractor Scott Construction Group.
Robert H.N. Ho Research Centre
Robert H.N. Ho Research Centre

The $27 million contract for the Robert H.N. Ho Research Centre had one major and ever-present challenge for general contractor Scott Construction Group.

There was simply no room.

The result was a huge co-ordination effort that saw building materials stacked within the structure, as it rose out of the ground.

That, plus the complexity of the project which included four floors of laboratories and a unique envelope, has made Scott Construction a Silver Award winner in the Vancouver Regional Construction Association’s Awards of Excellence in the general contractor $15 million to $40 million category.

Concept Aluminum Products, which provides glazing systems, is also a Silver Award winner of the President’s Trade Awards.

The Vancouver building site was squeezed between two busy streets, an ambulance route and a bank of 80-year-old trees.

The new structure joins the side of an existing Jack Bell Research Centre, part of the Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), the city’s busiest facility.

“We built on the parkade area of the existing building and there was no room for even laying down materials or trailers,” said Scott Construction project manager Damien Sorbier.

The site had to accommodate a seven-storey plus basement structure made of concrete and structural steel for a total of 69,350 square feet.

Scott’s construction crew had one small spot in front that measured 20 metres long and three to four metres wide, where material could off-loaded from the road.

But, that had to be achieved quickly to prevent traffic delays and blockage of any emergency vehicles that might be destined for VGH.

The project became a major task in co-ordination of deliveries, placement of materials, and about 45 trades and sub-trades.

Sorbier said materials were stored on site, according to need.

Some larger components were assembled on site.

It made for a challenging environment for the various crews.

“We were all on top of each other,” he said.

And, the critical scheduling and arrivals of materials was further challenged by more than 300 change orders and more than 150 site instructions.

The small footprint constraint added to other issues.

During the excavation and demolition phase, crews had to re-route the main storm and sanitary lines that ran right under the new building’s foundation wall, along Laurel Street.

The design of the structure itself was unusual.

“It was a challenging exterior envelope,” Sorbier said.

Portions of the exterior face are rounded, but there are rounded panels that sit on the building’s exterior wrapping around windows, providing an eyes and ears look that is part of the building’s role in visual listening to patients.

The building is a research facility aimed at proactive solutions to prostrate and ovarian cancer, and hip and mobility disorders.

“The building form was inspired by ideas of motion and medical instruments. The building folds and unfolds unto itself, creating a shell,” said exterior architect Renante Solivar, associate for Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership.

“The soft bends, rather than a hard crease fold, gives the building an ergonomic appearance. The building’s rounded corners relate, rather than mimic, to the round bays of the existing laboratories on the west side of the existing Jack Bell facility.”

A colorful red G symbolizes the building’s link to Vancouver General Hospital.

Joining the existing Jack Bell facility and the new research building is a six-storey atrium, intended for use as an amenity for researchers and clinical staff.

The basements of the two buildings are linked by a tunnel.

Bridges or walkways link the various floors on the sides of the atrium.

In order to join the two buildings, crews started from the exterior of the Bell structure.

“In some areas, we went through the wall (of the Bell building) and in others we were able to go through the windows,” Sorbier said.

The structure’s interior was complex. CEI Architecture Planning Interiors’ associate Tom Abele, in charge of field services and construction administration, said there are four floors of laboratories and three of offices.

That, combined with the healthcare research functions, layered several requirements onto the structure.

“You were co-ordinating the requirements for healthcare and the work done there as well as wanting to provide a nice working environment and yet there had to be security. So, there were three different environments (health, work and security) that had to be set up and work together,” said Abele.

“It was a challenging project, but I enjoyed it. We had good trades and sub-trades on site and we were quite pleased with the result.”

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