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Brasfield & Gorrie Completes Challenging GRAIL Laboratory and Research Facility Project Ahead of Schedule

by: Debra Wood
The new GRAIL Laboratory and Research Facility required complex trade coordination to meet the schedule.
The new GRAIL Laboratory and Research Facility required complex trade coordination to meet the schedule.
Crews install the spiral ductwork.
Crews install the spiral ductwork.
Improved laboratory space
Improved laboratory space
Additional warehouse space
Additional warehouse space
The new reception space
The new reception space
Various workspaces give employees more flexibility.
Various workspaces give employees more flexibility.
Various workspaces give employees more flexibility.
Various workspaces give employees more flexibility.
Various workspaces give employees more flexibility.
Various workspaces give employees more flexibility.
When faced with completing a warehouse-to-laboratory project in six months, during a pandemic, Brasfield & Gorrie rose to the challenge and finished construction 13 days early for GRAIL Laboratory and Research Facility project in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park in Durham.

“The schedule was the most challenging part of the project,” says Taylor Willis, Senior Project Manager with Brasfield & Gorrie in Raleigh, North Carolina. “Every decision we made revolved around the schedule, that goes all the way back to preconstruction and through construction.”

Owner GRAIL of Menlo Park, California, set a firm deadline for converting an existing warehouse built in 1981 and vacant for a decade. The property is now a modern commercial laboratory with DNA sequencing operations, accessioning, and reagent manufacturing spaces.

“GRAIL's Galleri test was launched in 2021 and screens for a common cancer signal,” says Michael Myers, Senior Director Finance and Facilities for the company. “The Galleri test has detected 50 different types of cancer. The expected demand for Galleri and our ongoing clinical trial with the National Health Service in the United Kingdom required the construction of a world-class laboratory able to process millions of samples per year.”

From lease signing to completion, the project took less than nine months.

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“Construction started in early September 2020 when permits were approved and completed in March 2021 when we received our certificate of occupancy,” Myers says. “Brasfield & Gorrie's ability to manage many vendors and subcontractors in a very dynamic labor environment and work through supply chain challenges for materials and equipment was remarkable.”

During preconstruction, Brasfield & Gorrie worked closely with the design team of Affiliated Engineers of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Perkins&Will of Durham, North Carolina. The contractor employed a design-assist method, starting with schematic design, which helped it identify potential difficulties securing certain materials and change plans to accommodate those supply-chain issues.

“We had an exceptional team, outside Brasfield & Gorrie and inside Brasfield & Gorrie,” Willis recalls. “The relationships we were able to foster with the designers and owner are the only way a project like this can be successful.”

Preparations for Building Out the Space
Brasfield & Gorrie began working on the project, with a 110,000-square-foot buildout of the existing space, during preconstruction stages, collaborating with the design team, owner and design-assist partners.

The project included 60,000 square feet of commercial laboratory space, 25,000 square feet of warehouse and cold storage, and 25,000 square feet of offices and conference spaces. That required extensive mechanical, electrical, and plumbing work.

The company used laser scanning to confirm where the columns, beams, and joists were within the existing space.

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“We wanted to confirm that the constraints were loaded properly in the model,” Willis explains. “It was another set of data that allowed us to be more accurate.”

By adopting a design-assist method, Brasfield & Gorrie was able to decide on trade contractors for high-risk aspects of the schedule.

“Selecting them early, we were able to bring them on board to mitigate our labor shortages and lock in those resources,” Willis says. “It also allowed us to receive real-time information about the procurement markets.”

That data enabled the design team to work toward systems that were available, which led to changes in the design. For instance, the original plans called for air-cooled chillers, but they were not available within the constraints of the schedule, so the team switched to direct exchange (DX) units with an acceptable lead time.

The team also recognized the electrical generators specified in the original plans would not arrive in time, so they found two other 1.25 megawatt generators that would work. The building height was sufficient to add a catwalk. Brasfield & Gorrie moved electrical panels and rooms from the main floor to catwalks above the ceiling, so they could be accessed more easily during construction. Distribution and 4,000 amp switch gear remained on the main floor level. Valves also were moved to the catwalk. And inspections could take place at the catwalk level.

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“Long-term it allowed the owner to maintain the equipment above the laboratory without shutting down lab operations,” Willis says. “It also frees them from worrying about contamination.”

Also, once the mechanical, plumbing, electrical, and fire system contractors were on board, Brasfield & Gorrie began the coordination process, using building information modeling (BIM) for clash detection and elimination of conflicts.

That led to changing from rectangular ductwork to 280,000 pounds of spiral ductwork, which reduced labor in the field, because the spiral ductwork came in longer sections. The early coordination also resulted in earlier procurement of piping, wiring and other necessary commodities.

A Complex Planning Approach
Brasfield & Gorrie began by gutting the remnants from prior occupants and demolishing some walls. It also came back to reinforce structural-steel joists on the roof, because the loads were going to be higher than for the warehouse. Seventeen air-handling units were placed on the roof.

“We took a top-down, east-west phasing approach,” Willis says. “We started to see stacking of trades. There was so much to be installed.”

Most everything was installed in the field, with no prefabrication. Brasfield & Gorrie assessed how many people could work on site simultaneously and planned accordingly. The construction team updated the project schedule twice weekly and created what-if schedules to make sure every window of opportunity was used.

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While avoiding seven-day workweeks because of employee fatigue, Brasfield & Gorrie went to two shifts for finishing. That way both the ceiling and flooring could be installed at once. And – thanks to the catwalks – the ceilings, paint, and floors could be started before the overhead work was complete.

Brasfield & Gorrie employed OpenSpace cameras to record progress. The owner and design team could monitor the work remotely.

The project has received several awards including ENR Southeast Best Project, the ABC Carolinas Eagle Award, and ABC National Excellence in Construction Eagle Award.

“I’m most proud of the relationships we developed along the way,” Willis says. “Our project team was absolutely exceptional. They were the foundation for developing that trusting relationship. Over time, those relationships turn into friendships. That’s what Brasfield & Gorrie strives for.”

Photos courtesy of Brasfield & Gorrie

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