In less than six months, work is expected to be completed on the NCDA&CS Agricultural Sciences Center. For a project that has been more than four years in the making, the approaching deadline brings excitement and a greater focus on the next challenge – moving five separate lab facilities into one building.
The laboratory complex will contain offices, training rooms, meeting space and labs that perform tests for four of the department’s divisions: Food and Drug Protection, Standards, Structural Pest Control and Pesticides, and Veterinary. The facility replaces four labs whose average age is more than 40 years. In total, the lab will house more than 200 employees.
“The services provided by these labs are important to our citizens, our farms and our businesses,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “For more than four years we have worked on this project and now it’s here and every day it takes greater shape. It’s very quickly becoming a finished product and I look forward to the day we move into this incredible space.”
The Agricultural Sciences Center funding was approved in the 2016 Connect NC Bond. It was the first of the bond-funded projects to have its design approved by the State Building Commission.
Coordinating the big move: Complex Manager Ron Willett
“The structural work is complete and the building is dried in,” said Ron Willett, Agricultural Sciences Center complex manager. “The glass is in and most of the walls are up.” Ron is closely watching the finishing touches on the building. His team will coordinate the big move.
“Our big challenge is continuity of operations for serving the citizens of the state,” Willett said. “Our goal is to minimize the impact on the labs when it comes to providing critical services to the state, such as food and drug testing.” More than 1,400 pieces of lab equipment are involved in the move. And moving a delicate piece of lab equipment isn’t as easy as unplugging it from one location and plugging it back in once it reaches the new lab. “Although the labs themselves will carry their certifications with them, when you move a piece of equipment you must re-certify,” Willett said. Some of the equipment requires running a series of tests to ensure it works correctly, for other pieces of equipment, such as balances, you must hire a company to re-certify it.
COVID-19 has meant that a lot of the planning for the move has happened remotely and online versus through face-to-face meetings. During the last couple of weeks Ron’s team has been working on signs for the new lab. More than 700 signs for bathrooms, stairwells, hazards and offices.
Willett is excited about the move. “This building will not only meet the needs we currently have as a state but one that is flexible enough to meet the needs of the state in the future.”
Construction Challenges faced due to COVID-19: Robert Marshall, senior project manager, JE Dunn:
Any 200,000-square foot construction project brings challenges. However, before this year, not many builders would have included a worldwide pandemic as a typical obstacle. “COVID-19 has impacted the procurement of light fixtures, aluminum door frames, as well as the bearings for the necropsy tables,” said Robert Marshall, senior project manager.
Construction of the new lab has been handled jointly by JE Dunn Construction Company and T.A. Loving Company. Getting to this point in the project has taken a combined effort of hundreds of people. “Dunn/Loving has been working with our trade partners and its vendors to manage through, minimizing the impact to the project schedule.” The team has kept the project on track for an estimated October 2020 completion. The facility contains 6,000 cubic yards of concrete, 1,200 tons of steel and tens of thousands of man hours.
“I am most excited about the programming and science that will be produced with this new facility and the positive impact it will have on the State of North Carolina,” Marshall said. “I am very fortunate to be a part of the project team responsible for the construction of this state-of-the-art facility.”
A dream come true, seeing your project rise up: Kristen Hess, owner, HH Architecture
In August of 2016, HH Architecture of Raleigh was selected to design the new Agricultural Sciences Center. Since then, Kristen Hess and her team has been at the heart of the project.
“I can tell you it is whole-heartedly gratifying and a bit surreal,” Hess said. “When I think about touring the existing labs that lack natural light, ventilation, and basic functionality, it is exciting to know that this important work to protect North Carolinians will now have a new and safe home to do so. The scientists and staff that work tirelessly each day to protect us will have a place that emulates the exceptional work they already do.
“I also cannot say enough about the teamwork on the project. All the NCDA&CS divisions working together and by our designers side each step of the way.”
Recently, work has been ongoing in the lobby of the new building, which features several unique design elements.
Hess explains the design features:
“For the wall anchoring the reception desk we took our inspiration from a scientific view of the tobacco leaf, featuring the inner beauty of this extraordinary plant. There is a long agricultural history in North Carolina, and tobacco farms are one of our longest standing institutions. The image we created combines technology and artistry, using a scan and hand tracing of an actual tobacco leaf harvested from one of North Carolina’s farms. We feel this creates a centerpiece for the new Agricultural Sciences Center lobby which truly represents the spirit of North Carolina agriculture.
“Moving deeper into the lobby you will be greeted by an enormous stone wall. Despite its size, we wanted to emulate a feeling which was bright and airy, selecting material which was light but also felt aged due to its darker terracotta and rust colored patterning. The light-well above allows natural light to flood the lobby and bring focus to this statement wall which separates the laboratory wing from administration. The patterning of the chosen tiles was specifically designed to support the massive size as well as the theme of the building as a whole. Starting on each end we chose smaller tiles that relate to the exterior building materials. Moving inward the tiles begin to grow in scale to fit the space as it becomes a two-story space.
“The lobby extends around the corner with break-out space where we have highlighted more of the Department’s deep history. Many favorite artifacts have been collected here for display, including objects from each of the five divisions moving into the building. This artifact display has a custom backdrop which offers an artistic twist on an aerial farmland view. We imagined this to be the perfect background to these carefully gathered department mementos.”
Many milestones have been celebrated with the Agricultural Sciences Center, from the groundbreaking in July of 2018, to a topping out a year later. None of these milestones will match the satisfaction of opening this building for permanent use. “Agriculture is our state’s No. 1 industry,” Troxler said. “I consider this lab to be a long-term investment in the future of agriculture in our state.”