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Historic Science Hall Gets an Inside Job

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The historic West Point Military Academy has a long history of teaching the sciences, which are required courses for all graduating cadets. But while the study of biology, chemistry and physics has evolved since 1802, when the West Point, N.Y.-based school was built, the school's neo-Gothic structures that house those disciplines have not—at least, not enough to support the advanced research occurring within these disciplines. The structures are, as one science professor describes them, "cramped and old."

Photo Courtesy of Walsh Construction
Support Team: Demolition was extensive and in one section required facade shoring and bracing to support the structure.
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The school has set out to change that with a two-phase, seven-year, interior-only renovation project—the science hall's most extensive upgrade to date. It is now in its second phase that, when completed, will transform the Bartlett Hall Science Center into a state-of-the-art facility.

"This marks one of the first major renovations of an academic building at West Point, a very famous school that attracts some of the best and brightest," says Col. Russell Lachance, second in charge of the chemistry department. "But one of the things that has never been a great selling point for us is our facilities." The existing Bartlett Hall—two attached buildings built in 1914 and 1930, as well as the attached Moore wing built around 1955—has undergone only minor upgrades through the years, "but even those were inadequate [in terms of] power and lab support," he says.

The new center will house the chemistry and life sciences and the physics and nuclear engineering departments as well as social and military science studies, providing new classrooms and laboratories. It will also allow the school to broaden its portfolio of research services for the Army by adding state-of-the-art collaborative space with leading research institutions for work in areas such as heterotopic ossification, an especially painful condition that can affect amputees.

The main motivation for this renovation was to create more space, Lachance says. "We were occupying and trying to conduct labs in space designed for half the class size. We're now 4,400 cadets, but the labs were built for a size of, at most, 2,000." The renovated space will be fully air conditioned and equipped with the most modern laboratory services, including purified water; lab waste and vents; compressed air; nitrogen; helium; laboratory natural gas; and vacuum systems for experiments.

To meet the tall order of creating an advanced facility, builders need to make major renovations that include seismic upgrades and add anti-terrorism protection to Bartlett Hall—also known as Building 753 East, West and South—and an attached four-story structure that used to be a library. The library, known as 753 North, was relocated to a nearby structure in a separate project completed in 2008.

Throughout the project, the team must also preserve the historic buildings, which must meet New York's State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) requirements. "We had to keep the historic fabric of the building. For example, we had to address the seismic structural system inside to support all of the exterior skins of the building," says Dennis Perry, chief architect for the Columbus, Ohio-based office of URS Corp., the project architect and structural engineer.

"What makes this different is that we are keeping the exterior of the building exactly as it was. The look, the windows, the granite stays exactly the same; normally when you do something this big, you would knock down the building and start all over," says Timothy Cain, contracting officer representative for the New York District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. USACE is the manager of both phases of the project.

The $48-million first phase, completed last November, included transforming 753 North into new science space. Milford, Mass.-based general contactor Consigli Construction worked with URS, the lead architect, MEP and fire protection engineer on this phase. RFD, San Diego, was the specialty lab consultant on design.

Phase 1 also increased the building's attachments to Building 753 from just a few points to all floors and the basement. Repurposing 753 North provided an extra 112,450 sq ft for the science center, says Perry.

The current $105-million second phase began in November and is set for completion in January 2016. A joint venture of URS and STV Group, New York, are working on this phase, with URS serving as seismic and structural engineer and landscape architect, and STV as the civil, MEP and fire protection engineer. Walsh Construction is the general contractor, and RFD is the lab consultant.

Besides building new MEP systems, architectural finishes and lab equipment, the team will make foundation and other structural upgrades including seismic reinforcements, progressive collapse prevention and steel-reinforced concrete walls at the perimeter.

Project team collaboration and coordination with the school was and still is critical, especially since both classes and construction work are taking place simultaneously. Classes are now held in 753 North and part of 753 West as demolition and construction takes place in the rest of Bartlett, Cain says. Classes will be moved to the completed parts of the building in May 2014, when the crews are set to begin renovations to that last section.

From an MEP perspective, one of the complexities of a project of this size and scope is maintaining existing operations while replacing and upgrading areas that serve the entire facility, says Al Klein, STV senior vice president. "We have to selectively demolish and upgrade infrastructure and systems to allow the building to be continually used as classes continue."

The extensive demolition adds another layer of complexity to an area of 753 South where two stacked, 1.5-story-high auditoriums have been taken down, says Paul Yamor, Walsh project manager. Demolition included removing the entire top-floor slab, requiring facade shoring and bracing to support the structure, Yamor says. The team hired bracing designer Ruby & Associates to develop an interior-bracing plan. "For us, this was a key point because [outside bracing] would have been difficult to install and unsightly, and a lot of stuff would have had to penetrate the granite facade."

"Super studs" are used to brace the exterior walls where complete floors are being removed, he says. Other demolition work in the 753 South building involved removing 2-ft-wide floor slabs around the building's perimeter.

"A lot of the demolition—taking down pipes, and all the mechanical, electrical and plumbing services—were done by hand and a robotic mini-excavator," Yamor says.

The team is also lowering the existing foundations by up to 12 ft in part of Building 753 for mechanical rooms and is using micropiles to support the building during the process. The micropiles were drilled about 60 ft deep and then socketed into bedrock, Yamor says. Another "interesting part" of this work is that it is being done about 50 ft above a freight train tunnel, he adds.

Project design had to comply with anti-terrorism force protection standards, but mimicking the existing design of windows would have been too costly, Perry says. Using the basic layouts of the existing windows, the team introduced a second window that lines up with the seismic wall. That met the requirements and also boosts thermal performance, he adds.

In the end, the hope is that the project will attract more science- and engineering-minded students, Lechance says. In any event, he adds, it is bound to underscore the school's "science matters" philosophy.

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