Buzzing with ideas

The tens of thousands of research mice to be housed in the Center for Molecular Medicine under construction on the University of Nevada, Reno, campus won't reproduce well if they're bothered by loud noises.

That presented something of a problem to the architectural team that developed the building.

The Center for Molecular Medicine, after all, is within shouting distance of Mackay Stadium and the shouting can be loud on autumn Saturday afternoons during Wolf Pack football games.

Chris Larsen of the Las Vegas architectural firm Dekker/Perich/Sabatini, the designer of the building, laughs that he almost threw up his hands and ran from the project after learning of the noise-control requirement.

The 107,000-square-foot building, just south of McCarran Boulevard, is designed to take equally good care of the medical researchers who will move in after the structure is completed this summer.

"We spent a lot of time talking about coffee," says Thomas Kozel, the center's project manager from the School of Medicine and a professor of microbiology.

Planners wanted to create a building that encouraged the informal interplay of ideas among researchers over cups of coffee and informal meetings in hallways.

Open spaces for research colleagues to huddle and kick around ideas are located on each floor of the building's west wing.

More exchange of ideas will come as researchers work in one of five large research suites where 25 or 30 teachers, post-doctoral students and graduate students will work at a time.

They'll be conducting research in fields such as cancer, infectious disease, cardiovascular disease, neuroscience and gastrointestinal disease.

The $79 million building is a major element in plans to increase enrollment at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine a step that will require more faculty as well.

While the new laboratories are expected to create at least 140 jobs for researchers and support staff, Kozel says the economic impact will ripple off the campus into the rest of the region's economy.

The Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, for instance, has identified life sciences as a growth industry in the region, and the new facilities will help build a workforce for those companies.

The Center for Molecular Medicine is the first medical research facility built on the campus in three decades, and it reflects state-of-the-art thinking about laboratory design and energy efficiency.

Kozel notes, for instance, that laboratories need specialized and expensive air-handling systems because of the heat generated by equipment. The building's layout takes care to separate the labs from offices, which require much more modest air-handling.

But the big challenges came in creation of the building's vivarium a facility for the facility and study of genetically engineered mice. Ultimately, as many as 60,000 mice may be housed in the vivarium.

That research requires a highly secure, environmentally controlled and germ-free environment.

All of the mechanical operations plumbing, electrical and the like for the vivarium are controlled from a room above the facility. That eliminates the need for workmen to be in the facility.

The only maintenance that will be handled inside the vivarium itself is changing of light bulbs and Kozel says a laboratory protocol will spell out precisely how light bulbs are to be installed.

Redundant boilers and emergency generators ensure control of the vivarium's environment, a statement to the importance of the facility's research work.

"If the vivarium fails, the work in the rest of the building fails," says Lyle Woodward, director of facilities services at UNR.

It comes at a cost. Construction of the vivarium will run about $1,000 a square foot, compared with an average cost of $596 for the entire center.

The vivarium, basic medical research laboratories and research offices account for the space in the new building's west wing.

Its east wing, meanwhile, will serve as home of the UNR Center for Aging and the headquarters of the Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Diseases.

Facilities in the center for aging will include a studio apartment which will allow staff members to help aging patients learn life skills that will keep them independent.

Research at the Whittemore Peterson Institute, meanwhile, will focus on causes and treatment of neuro-immune diseases such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and autism.

University officials expect that the interplay between researchers from the medical school and the Whittemore Peterson Institute may spur their creativity.

The east wing of the building includes a spacious public area for receptions, a cafe and a 97-seat auditorium equipped to deliver lectures and meetings via the Internet to audiences across the world.

Grants for research at the medical school and elsewhere on the UNR campus will pay much of the $79 million price tag on the new building.

The state government provided $10 million for the building, and private donations helped jump-start the project.

The grants received by researchers, meanwhile, typically include a provision for overhead costs, and those funds will be used to pay down the bond that financed the construction.

Clark and Sullivan Construction Inc. of Sparks is general contractor on the project, which has employed more than 200 workers in the construction trades. Work got under way in late 2008, and Clark and Sullivan is on track to beat the initial timetable that called for completion this autumn.

The building is part of a new quad on the north side of the UNR campus, and the Center for Molecular Medicine will overlook the Pennington Medical Education Building, a $49 million project that is just beginning to take shape. It will house classrooms, laboratories and other facilities for nursing and medical students.

Kozel notes that the new buildings will create a dramatically new face for the university's north side, where motorists along busy North McCarran Boulevard previously had seen little but the back of the 30-year-old Howard Medical Services Building.


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