A $375-million state-of-the-art healthcare, education, and research structure allows university to increase enrollment.
At 628,000 sq. ft., the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences Building at the Univ. at Buffalo (UB, buffalo.edu), Buffalo, NY, is said to be the largest recently constructed medical-education building in the United States and the largest new building to have been erected in downtown Buffalo in decades. The eight-story structure was designed and built using sustainable materials and methods, with the goal of obtaining LEED Gold certification. UB is part of the State Univ. of New York system.
The LiRo Group (LiRo, liro.com), Buffalo, served as construction manager in a joint venture with Gilbane Building Co. (gilbaneco.com), Buffalo; architect HOK (HOK.com), New York; and general contractor LPCiminelli (lpciminelli.com), Buffalo.The LiRo-Gilbane joint venture was formed in 2013 to leverage both firms’ healthcare and higher-education experience. The State University Construction Fund (SUCF) engaged LiRo-Gilbane following the completion of the schematic design phase, just prior to the beginning of design development. As part of the joint venture, LiRo’s personnel managed preconstruction and served as project managers for the general construction and the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) work.
First and foremost, UB wanted to expand and modernize its medical school, but this was not feasible in its existing buildings. The new building, on the other hand, allows UB to expand the size of each of its classes in the Jacobs School by a full 25%, from 144 to 180 students each year. By expanding the number of doctors it will train, UB hopes to address the Western New York and national physician shortages. (The Association of American Medical Colleges (aamc.org), Washington, projects a national shortfall of between 40,800 and 104,900 physicians by 2030.)
2018 is the first academic year UB welcomed its first class of 180 students. By 2021, the school’s enrollment will include a fully expanded complement of 720 M.D. students. In addition, the Jacobs School enrolls 126 Ph.D. and 86 Master’s degree graduate students in its biomedical sciences programs. The new building can accommodate more than 900 students in addition to faculty and support staff, with more than 1,500 seats devoted to classrooms, lecture auditoriums, study areas, computer labs, small-group learning rooms, and conference rooms.
The university also wanted to move the location of its medical school. For the past 64 years, the medical school was on the university’s south campus, a 6-mi. commute from area teaching hospitals where students receive their clinical training. The Jacobs School’s new downtown location makes it part of the 120-acre Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC), a co-located center of healthcare (including three teaching hospitals), life-sciences research, and medical education institutions. Interestingly, the new Jacobs School building represents a return to the neighborhood. It is situated very close to where UB’s medical school was located from 1893 to 1953, prior to its move to south campus.
Now that the new building is in the BNMC, commutes are much shorter. In fact, the Jacobs School building was built over the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) Allen/Medical Campus Metro station, making travel to the area extremely convenient. The Jacobs building highlights the Metro station, which is the gateway to the campus for the many commuters who use the station as their entry point to BNMC. This is the first time a subway station has been located under a building in Buffalo. The university struck a deal with NFTA to obtain air rights above the station.
As part of their construction management services, LiRo oversaw the renovation of the NFTA station, which is connected to the Jacobs School building by escalators and an internal, second-floor pedestrian walkway extending from the station at Allen Street to High Street. Commuters traveling to other buildings will soon be able to continue from this point through a proposed bridge connection across High Street to the Conventus Medical Building, which, in turn, is connected by existing bridges to other hospitals and research centers in the BNMC. The interior pedestrian path supports the connection among buildings and their occupants.
It was also vital to UB that the new building support active learning. The university, along with higher education in general, is moving away from older methods of teaching where professors lecture and students passively take notes. While the former south-campus medical-school buildings were traditional 1950s-era structures that were segmented for lecture-heavy education, the new Jacobs building was designed to encourage interaction among students and faculty. To achieve this, the design uses a great deal of glass and open spaces that promote chance encounters. Offices are glass-walled; conference rooms are stacked around a large central atrium; lounge furniture has been placed in open areas to encourage group discussions; and spaces are flexible, with modular research laboratories that can be expanded or contracted, and desks that can be reconfigured to become conference tables.
The two interlocking L-shaped wings that form the building are split by glazed walls to minimize the perceived bulk of the structure. The conjoined Ls fit together to form an internal atrium that serves as a town square, while each structure is independent and integral to the other. Overall, the building’s façade uses a rainscreen system with a terra-cotta tile finish to reflect some of the area’s historic buildings, especially the character of those within the surrounding Allentown neighborhood. The design specified the use of nearly 27,000 locally made terra-cotta tiles. From floors two through seven, the front of the atrium is glazed with a custom-designed curtainwall system in the void between the two Ls. The façade’s punched windows, all of which feature low-e glazing for energy efficiency, are in assemblies that are two- and three-stories high and, depending on the façade, are three- or four-rows high.
The primary building entrance presents a transparent view into the two-story atrium. The dominant feature of the lobby, serving to draw people into the building, is the light tower constructed from opaque glass. It has an internal lighting system that allows colors to shine through, whether UB’s signature blue or one of any number of other possible hues. The lobby and light tower are visible to Metro passengers who traverse the building’s internal corridor from the station to Conventus and other buildings in BNMC.
The interior’s main feature is the centrally located atrium rising from the second floor to the skylighted roof, placed at the midpoint between the seventh and eighth floors. Within the atrium, which measures more than 50-ft. wide and 250-ft. long, some floors have balconies, while other floors (such as those with labs) overlook the atrium windows. Similarly, some of the floors feature steel bridges with glazed railings that traverse the atrium. Overall, the building was designed so that the various functional spaces that ring the atrium gain shared sunlight and visual access to the atrium and the surrounding areas. For example, student-gathering areas are strategically placed at the void between the intersecting Ls in order to allow a light exchange between the exterior and the atrium, while also providing visual connections. Bridges span the atrium at critical junctures to encourage pedestrian movement through the building. Individual stairs also provide vertical connections between floors, many occurring at the bridges to also encourage movement.
Entering through the first-floor lobby at Main and High Streets, one progresses past the monumental stair that wraps the light tower. Designed to enhance transparency, the stair is of steel construction with terrazzo treads and features a glass railing with under-mounted LED strips. From there, one enters the functional areas of the building past the security desk, through the security doors, and into the corridor that connects to the entry from Washington Street. At the midpoint of this corridor is a staircase that leads to the second floor and the base of the atrium. (The atrium is not seen from the first floor until one is standing at the base of the stair.)
In a bold connection to the past, the designers had the team install the original gaslight lanterns that illuminated the medical school’s High Street lobby from 1893 until 1953. The lanterns were restored by two UB faculty members using a 3D printer and CAD technology to replicate pieces of the metalwork that were missing or decayed. The luminaires were then updated with the LED technology and are connected to the lighting-control system installed throughout the facility.
Leaving the first floor, one traverses the main stair extending to the second floor, which is the base of the atrium serving as the schools’ main social space. As the stair progresses from the first floor to the second, there are two landings with large seating areas off of them that provide breakout areas for student interaction. A second staircase is internal and leads from the first-floor corridor to the second floor and atrium.
The atrium itself features drywall and wood-panel finishes, while the floor is white terrazzo with an added mix of highlights. The LED lighting fixtures within the atrium are primarily on the walls. Overall, the effect of the atrium is one that fosters a sense of community and the active learning environment the university wished to emphasize.
The most interesting element in the atrium is the two-story-high, 32-ft.-tall light tower built from a steel skeleton clad in opaque curtainwall-type glass panels. The tower has an internal LED-based lighting system that has the ability to change colors, showcasing UB’s blue or other colors, depending on the program.
While the architects developed the concept of the light tower, it was LiRo and LPCiminelli that brought it to life. “The construction team helped make real the architect’s vision, all while making it as user friendly and as maintenance free as possible,” explained LiRo MEP project manager John Yerico “The LiRo team coordinated closely with the trades to mount LED lights on white Plexiglas panels that were then sandwiched between the LED lights on one side of the panel and the electronics and controls on the other side. By using special holders, we ensured that the panels would be easy to remove and replace,” he added. Inside the tower is a platform and controllers for the light. Due to the fact that the tower is so prominent, the access door had to be carefully hidden. To do this, the door was mounted on a balanced-post swing. When it is closed, it is not seen as a door. Rather, it looks like another panel.
Of the building’s eight above-grade floors, seven are for programming and the top-most floor is a mechanical penthouse. The first and second floors feature classrooms, other teaching spaces, a 440-seat auditorium, and a smaller 200-seat auditorium. The auditoriums, located on the second floor, are equipped with state-of-the-art audio-visual systems. The second floor also houses a faculty lounge, a student lounge, student meeting and team rooms, a bank branch with an ATM, and a casual café. For full-service dining, students, faculty, and staff members are encouraged to visit surrounding businesses.
Floors three through five feature modern, light-filled laboratory spaces for research purposes. Internally, the laboratories are connected by equipment corridors, allowing research spaces to share core facilities. Organizationally, the laboratories are situated on the wide side of the corridors, adjacent to the building exterior to provide access to natural light, while private offices for senior staff are on the other side, overlooking the atrium. There are also cubicles interspersed throughout for junior researchers and administrative staff.
The sixth floor offers specialized learning spaces. The Behling Simulation Center, for example, allows students to train using lifelike mannequins in realistic emergency- medical scenarios. The Clinical Competency Center allows students to interact with volunteer “patients” to simulate real-world doctor-patient interactions. Surgical suites and robotics suites with specialty lighting and multiple operating tables are also located here and on the seventh floor, so that students, medical residents, and professionals may train in the newest techniques. A gross-anatomy lab is also housed within these floors, to provide students with traditional training, as well as access to visualizations for in-depth detail. Moreover, the facilities feature extensive audio-visual equipment with multiple cameras and screens that enable recording for the purposes of reference and other educational opportunities.
A pharmacy, computer lab, home healthcare class (with a homecare simulation lab), and a disabled-care training room are also within this floor. There are also some smaller specialized surgery rooms with glass enclosures for observation on these floors, as well as a morgue, open break rooms, landscaped areas between specialized rooms, a large human-anatomy lab with prep rooms and tables, and rooms with beds that simulate hospital rooms. Overall, the surgical and clinical simulation areas allow medical, nursing, and pharmacy students to interact and “practice” by experiencing clinical simulations. Administrative offices and a dean’s office suite are also on this level. All of the laboratories on these floors feature special sealed high-performance, non-skid, epoxy medical flooring that can be cleaned and sanitized frequently without damage.
Both the classrooms and open spaces, dubbed “learning landscapes,” promote the collaborative interactions UB wanted to foster among students and faculty. The active learning classrooms contain triangular tables that are electronic. Any student can easily contribute by presenting data to an entire 180-person group from his or her seat. Smaller technology-enabled classrooms and study spaces are peppered throughout the building for more intimate gatherings.
“This building fully integrates medical education into Buffalo’s growing academic health center, emphasizing interdisciplinary collaboration and strengthening our relationships with our clinical partners, said Michael Cain, MD, vice president for health sciences at UB and dean of the Jacobs School.
“A medical school that is just steps away from UBMD Physicians’ Group at Conventus, John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital, Buffalo General Medical Center, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, and all of our other partners will foster synergies that will expand and improve health care in Western New York,” he added.
Specialized Mechanical Systems
LiRo managed the design and construction of a sophisticated MEP system to serve the building, including installing a newly built 23-KW substation as part of the infrastructure work. The team also had to figure out the best way, during construction, to temporarily heat such a large structure that features an expansive internal courtyard. LiRo chose direct-gas-fired exterior heaters and virtually pressurized the building to force the heat to all points in the building, creating temperatures that allowed finishes, sealants, and adhesives to properly dry and cure.
The building features complex, specialized infrastructure such as medical gases and a reverse osmosis and deionization (RODI) system. The school is equipped with lines for hot, chilled, and condenser water, and fuel-oil system lines. There is piping for high-pressure steam/condensate, domestic and tempered water, as well as cold and hot non-potable water. Carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, and a medical vacuum and compressed air have been routed to each lab. In addition, there are vent, storm/overflow, and reclaim, and natural gas lines. The two-step RODI purification system includes a reverse-osmosis membrane that first purifies the water, followed by a de-ionizing resin that removes any residual charged compounds from the water. Fire sprinklers are installed throughout the building.
On the eighth floor, the mechanical penthouse, one side houses three air handlers on that floor’s terrace. The fourth air handler on that side is set on the seventh floor, to accommodate the changing architectural line of the roof. The opposite side of the eighth floor has four air handlers, a domestic hot-water system, and a hot-water heating system. Both of those sides have three air handlers that are twinned with those opposite to serve the general building areas, while one of the specialized fourth units serves the seventh floor’s anatomy lab. The twinned air handlers have heat-recovery systems for energy efficiency, and only 100% outside air is used for all of the handlers, as a majority of the building has medical and research functions, where recirculating air was not practical.
In an effort to get the roof portions of the penthouse in and concrete decks poured, steel construction was accelerated and decking was installed to hasten concrete placement. The eighth floor is 38-ft. high to accommodate the infrastructure located on it, and it is enclosed, due to the harsh Buffalo winters. Thus, the roof—which houses cooling towers, stacks, and fans—is a full three stories’ distance from the seventh floor’s atrium skylight.
According to LiRo MEP project manager John Yerico, “Each of the eight air handler units was delivered in nine oversized sections on separate tractor-trailers, which had to have special transport permits. Extensive, oversized ductwork for each of these units had to be fabricated and installed prior to the rigging and assembling of the handlers. It took some very precise orchestration to properly manage the delivery and installation of these systems.” The air handlers were delivered on more than 74 trailer trucks, then lifted and assembled as required onto the eighth floor. The streets below were quite narrow, but the team was able to place these units with a hydraulic crane.
Yerico explains that LiRo and the contractor had to coordinate the delivery and assembly of the units with the installation of the supporting structure. The team sequenced the delivery and installation of each piece of the air handler simultaneously with the corresponding elements of the steel frame. The units are each two stories high and there was no space available in the building to store or move them around in case of an error, so the staging and progression of the sections’ delivery was extremely carefully planned and executed. An opening was left on each side of the eighth floor at the east-side entrance, and the air-handling units were rolled into place, one at a time. These were rigged into place in assembly sequence; the team would hang several sections from the upper steel while placing the lower units onto the slab, working simultaneously with the riggers. The upper unit would be lowered down onto the bottom section, and then the riggers would connect the ductwork. All this made for a highly complex rigging operation.
The team also managed some complicated design updates for the rooftop equipment. For example, LiRo and HVAC subcontractors developed a number of on-site updates and revisions to address maintenance-access issues in fairly tight spaces. The seventh floor also features retractable window-washing equipment for the skylights and a smoke-evacuation system.
A highly specialized area was also constructed for the electron microscope supplied by the facility. Special consideration throughout the under-slab as well as the overhead electric infrastructure had to be carefully planned and installed. Electromagnetic shielding was installed in many areas as well.
Other systems are located in the two basement levels. Six independent boilers and support equipment systems were installed for steam washing, to ensure redundancy. The steam systems use a three-step process that begins with water softening, followed by water purifying, then transforming it into steam. This level houses several pump areas, a valve room, four different fire-suppression systems (wet, dry, foam, and CO2), a chilled-water system with two chillers and pumps, water heaters, booster pumps, distribution piping for all systems, heat exchangers, and a fuel system for a UPS generator that is installed on the roof.
The basement also features other mechanical systems as well as the master data room, RODI water-treatment room, medical-gas room and compressors, a water-harvesting system that recovers condensation from coils, and a water system for safety showers and eye-washing stations. This area also has catwalks for access to mechanical and support equipment. The main data room is hardwired using underground connection to UB’s other campuses. The data infrastructure is routed from the main data center and throughout the building.
Structurally, the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences Building features a bathtub foundation 40-ft in depth. The excavation work took place next to the existing NFTA Metro station and tunnel. To maintain safety, the team carefully monitored the site conditions, including using motion detectors in the subway tunnel to evaluate vibrations during construction. The team could not exceed the maximum vibration of 2,000 micro-in./sec. In addition, temporary structures were erected where necessary, such as a retaining wall that held the soil adjacent to the tunnel in the station. This retaining wall was later incorporated into the new building and, subsequently, the subway station itself has been incorporated into the building.
Sharing a common first floor, the upper floors of each L-shaped wing of the main building are connected at the perimeter and by bridges that traverse the atrium at key points to maximize the interconnectivity of the building’s functional areas.
The project team had to address the need for large free spans necessary to bridge the NFTA station as well as the large lecture halls that were part of the school. The largest of these trusses, approximately 20-ft. high and 120-ft. long, is placed above the NFTA station at the building’s edge along Main Street. Addressing seismic and vibration issues resulted in structural cross-bracing at strategic locations, extending from the first floor to the roof to create trusses that span the height of the building. Varying in size, the largest occupies a portion of the structure 100-ft. wide.
The structure spans nearly two city blocks and is bounded by public streets on three sides and an existing building on the fourth side, which served to multiply the logistical and technical challenges, which were enormous from the outset. The approximately 450-ft. by 200-ft. site is in a tight, restricted urban area and the streets are fairly narrow. Plus, the location is within close proximity to busy hospitals and the resulting emergency traffic. Fortunately, the city approved a complete street closure on one side of the site, so all deliveries were brought there. As there was no room for materials storage on site, deliveries were immediately hoisted up using a tower crane placed in the atrium. Similarly, the buck hoist for worker and material access to the building was placed in the void where the curtainwall would ultimately be placed.
The existing Allen/Medical Campus Metro station beneath the site—and incorporating this station into the new Medical building—provided added challenges, particularly because the subway station had to remain operational throughout excavation, demolition, and new construction. After all, this station is the main hub for access to Buffalo General Medical Center, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, UBMD Physicians’ Group at Conventus, and Gates Vascular Institute. Thus, the construction team put in a great deal of effort to coordinate with NFTA, the contractors, and SUCF. LiRo and other members of the construction team planned consistent meetings with all relevant parties and solved problems methodically.
The team took a pro-active approach to all anticipated issues to avoid as much disruption to the Metro as possible. Crews built a temporary station within the existing NFTA station to separate the construction work from subway passengers. Specifically, the temporary station was constructed within the existing station structure, allowing the existing station to be demolished while passenger access and safety was maintained. This temporary structure continued to provide safety while the building was erected above.
A three-week shutdown was required to allow the first two floors of steel to be erected, while future shutdowns for continued steel erection were restricted to a few miscellaneous weekend outages so that the weekday business commuters would not be affected and full access to the surrounding businesses was maintained. All shutdowns were phased, planned well in advance, and well publicized to the public. NFTA provided bus service during those times. Other than these shutdowns, the team performed work after hours and off-shift to accommodate the subway schedule. Further, team members carefully built over and around the existing electric substation that serves the entire Metro system.
While winters in Buffalo are harsh under any circumstances, the winter of 2014-2015 brought prolonged inclement weather that set back the schedule of excavation and foundations significantly. In turn, this impacted the team’s ability to enclose the building prior to the winter of 2015-2016. According to LiRo project executive, Stephen Burke, “Rather than leaving the entire building open, curtailing interior construction, we recommended constructing a temporary roof at the fifth-floor slab. This would allow interior work to progress in the basement and floors one through four, while the structural work continued above.” The team also recommended installing a temporary drain system so that workers could more easily remove the inevitable winter detritus of freezing rain, ice, and snow. They sloped the center section to the temporary drain system and removed snow and ice accumulations as needed.
Additional logistical difficulties arose due to the fact that the Jacobs site shares a street with new 13-story Oishei Children’s Hospital of Buffalo, which was being built at the same time, and was in the same stages of construction. Trucking in the super-steel columns and girders down narrow city streets to the erecting tower cranes would have been difficult even without the added construction site just a few yards away. To overcome this challenge, the team created an off-site lay-down area and accompanying logistical plan that called for the erection of the steel sequence, truck scheduling, and alternate routes, including backing the steel delivery trucks into the site by driving in reverse for two or three blocks. The same was done for the large mechanical equipment that was delivered on oversize-load trucks. Many of these vehicles could not make the turns and had no other way of accessing the unloading area.
Interior construction also called for creative solutions. For example, bridging the atrium between the two Ls during construction was something of a challenge, so the construction team used an oversized scaffold to temporarily connect the floors between buildings.
The LiRo Group (LiRo), served as construction manager in a joint venture with Gilbane Building Co., architect HOK, and general contractor LPCiminelli.
The Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences’ project team also included structural engineer Ysrael A. Seinuk, P.C.; civil engineer Foit-Albert Associates; and MEP engineer Vanderweil Engineers. In addition, the Jacobs Consultancy served as the laboratory-planning consultant, Cline Bettridge Bernstein Lighting Design served as lighting designer, and the commissioning agent was Facility Dynamics Engineering.
The Jacobs School was the first project to receive funding through the NYSUNY 2020 Challenge Grant Program, an initiative to spur economic growth throughout New York while simultaneously strengthening the academic programs of its public universities and colleges, to elevate SUNY as a catalyst for regional economic development and affordable education. UB received $35 million in 2011 for the new building, administered through the Empire State Development Corporation and SUCF. The grant terms required the project to be built on an accelerated schedule to meet the requirements of the 2020 Challenge Program.