As a rule, building or renovating an animal research facility requires a comprehensive process of planning, design, and construction. But when Kansas State University (Manhattan, KS) attracted the Department of Homeland Security’s new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF)—triggering a relocation of the College of Veterinary Medicine’s eight-building Large Animal Research Center (LARC)—they needed to act fast.

It was January, and by fall the LARC would need to be in its new space and the existing site cleared for the NBAF. That meant designing and constructing a facility that satisfied research program requirements, achieved animal facility certification, and met university requirements for flexibility, schedule, and budget in about half the time it would normally take.

The end result? A $5.7 million six building complex of research laboratories and animal holding facilities for bovine, canine, caprine, equine, and porcine research—on schedule, on budget, and laying the foundation for a more robust research program.

Here’s how.

Fast-tracking with Design-Build
While the university typically used a traditional “design-bid-build” project delivery method, they knew that achieving their goals required an approach new to them. A design-build process, not typically suited for building a complex animal research facility, was identified as the best way to gain the needed flexibility and compressed schedule. This created a strong collaborative relationship between the design team and the contractor, allowed for flexibility in subcontractor bidding, and allowed the Kansas State University Department of Facilities Planning, which was managing the project, to receive an early guaranteed maximum price.

The fast track was not only critical to meeting KSU’s contractual obligations to the NBAF, it was a financial necessity. Funding for the Comparative Medicine Group (CMG) is tied to animal-based research; every day they weren’t conducting research was a day without revenue. In addition, temporary facilities for housing teaching animals were only available for a limited time.

October 2010 - End of Construction (C) Hodnett Photographics LLC

Entrance to the Complex with Caretaker Residence and Main Research Guilding (c) mspillers 2010

Establishing Two-way Trust
The reality of a building project is that when an owner selects a design team based on a relatively short interview, they are committed to that team making thousands of important decisions on their behalf. Trust is essential. “That’s why we wanted a team who knew this world,” says Sally Ann Olson, DVM, Assistant Director of the LARC/ CMG. “We had no time to educate them in the world of research. It was also important to us that they have an existing relationship. We didn’t want them to be meeting each other for the first time.”

Once selected, the team immediately scheduled a design charrette, an intensive on-site planning session, to bring stakeholders together and begin to achieve consensus. With a tight schedule, a fixed budget and research, animal facility certification, and program flexibility requirements to meet, it was critical to get parties as varied as the CMG, the KSU Foundation, university planning, project funder the Kansas Biosciences Authority (KBA), city and county officials, local utility representatives, and information technology experts all on the same page. The inclusive session also helped the design team to establish the trust needed for a project that was moving at veritable light speed.

Investing in the Project
Researchers were given six months to finish up research and make accommodations for the time when the relocation was underway. All work was put on hold for three months. Future research start dates were set based on the projected end construction date, leaving little time to waste.

“We had no place to do our business, so we had a strong drive to get this building done,” says Olson. “We realized early on that the key individuals who are making decisions had to be there at all the meetings for this to happen.”

That commitment was critical to meeting the project schedule and was shared by the design-build team, right down to the job site. An aggressive schedule necessitated principal-level involvement and more experienced professionals in the field. There was no time for back and- forth and extensive design revisions or mistakes. Decision-makers came to meetings prepared to act so that the next steps could happen quickly. Team members brought knowledge of how other facilities had solved similar challenges and encouraged CMG staff to reach out to other institutions for new solutions.

“We had to be on top of our needs, to ask the questions, to understand how we wanted to use the space, to understand the needs of our researchers so that we could make those construction decisions,” says Olson. “You need to know what your researchers need—how many researchers you have, the type of research they are doing, when they are doing it, the species they’re using, and the space requirements dictated by all of that.”

Managing Midstream Changes
Initially, the project was funded as a “brick-for-brick” replacement of the existing 40-year-old facility. That meant living with the challenges of a facility that had been constructed for conventional animal housing, not research activity. It was trust and investment among team members that allowed the project thinking to shift just weeks into the process.

Over the years, the facility had adapted to research functions, but there were operational inefficiencies. It was, in essence, compliant by protocol, not design. It quickly became clear that they could gain more than a new building by identifying the current and future research needs, understanding the multi-species requirements, establishing efficient workflow, and getting input from facility managers about what they needed to manage the complex.

“Once we made that switch from a brick-by-brick to a function-by-function mindset, we got something much better than what we had been operating with,” says Olson.

But the recognition of future growth opportunities also required midstream changes, achieving funder buy-in and flexibility on all sides. The site had been chosen based on a replacement philosophy, but changes in the program brought changes in building location, road alignment and grading, and the size and location of utilities after breaking ground.

Building for the Future
The growth potential inherent in the revised design—which includes an animal research building, a hooved stock barn, a storage/shop garage, a hay barn, and a two-bedroom caretaker house—delivered a more flexible and efficient research program. Unlike its predecessor, the new facility would no longer be making do: it was designed to address the critical issues of program certification and research program funding.

The 19,000-square-foot research building includes administration and research support space, large- and small animal holding areas and procedure rooms, feed storage, and greyhound space. ABSL-2 and BSL2-Ag facilities house multiple species, along with research and procedure labs. Flexible work areas can now accommodate work on both noninfectious and infectious animals. The complex also includes two large animal holding areas with shared work areas for simultaneous research and five small animal areas with supporting procedure, evaluation, and manipulation rooms.

A hooved stock barn houses 24 horses, procedure and storage rooms, holding stalls, and exterior paddocks. Concurrent with design and construction, a two-phase expansion was also planned to further enhance ABSL-2 capabilities.

Managing Changes and Budget
Typically, planning, programming, and conceptual design documents provide the roadmap for a successful project. In this case, normal sequences were not in effect and the “roadmaps” were continually being modified to create optimal design solutions.

To keep on schedule, buildings were ordered just two weeks after the design charrette and site work started 45 days later. Some major components required multiple bids, meaning that bids were put out with limited or incomplete documents. Exterior walls were being built while interior design decisions were still being made. While it required flexibility and collaboration, the compressed schedule also kept everyone attentive to the program: there was little time to consider wish lists.

Budget numbers were updated weekly. As item allowances were identified, benchmark numbers were updated. Creating the new facility became an ongoing open discussion of which expenditures would most enhance operations and which might not be worth investment.

As planning, programming, and conceptual design efforts progressed, site modifications were needed after ground breaking. By openly communicating together about needs and costs, being flexible, and carefully managing changes during nearly merged design and construction phases, the project was able to evolve in design and programming while keeping the budget and construction schedule intact.

At the end of nine months and for less than expected in construction costs, an outdated 8-building complex of 56,028 square feet had closed, clearing space for the NBAF facility. And a new state-of-the-art 6-building LARC complex had opened.

David Livingood, AIA is Principal at Treanor Science & Technology. He has many years of experience planning and designing animal research facilities. Treanor Science & Technology, 1040 Vermont St., Lawrence, KS 66047. 888-842-4858.;