May 29th, 2012

Touring the New ABIA Headquarters

Hasenstab Architects has recently completed the new headquarters / simulation center for the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron (ABIA).  Brian Miner, AIA, Project Architect, led his co-workers on a tour of the facility as the contractors were completing the finishing touches and preparing for the ABIA to move into the space.  Here are a few things that Brian had to say:

What was exciting about this project?

Everything was exciting about the project – from working with a new client to designing a simulation center that can mimic an entire hospital but on a smaller scale.

This is a unique project because it is ABIA’s headquarters but it is also influenced by many different partners that are healthcare organizations – both professional and educational.  Can you tell us more about that?

It is ABIA’s headquarters but it also contains one of their Centers of Excellence – CSIHE (Center for Simulation & Integrated Healthcare Education) – so it also doubles as a headquarters for both entities in the same envelope.  Practicing medical professionals from different area hospitals can test out new procedures and new equipment without having to work on an actual living person in the new simulation center.  Additionally, ABIA can have mass casualty training simulations.  So that is something that ties in the Akron Fire Department, the Akron Police Department – into the whole simulation as well.  They can practice these simulations on a really large scale now because this facility is able to accommodate their needs.

For example, the new facility contains a fully functional decontamination room.  They can turn the water on and really practice that kind of training.  The idea is to give somebody as much opportunity to practice before they actually face this kind of event in reality so they can become familiar and comfortable with the procedures.

What was the biggest challenge with the project?

From a design standpoint, the biggest challenge was trying to make the Owner’s program and requests fit inside of an existing 1917 building.  We had many meetings and created a lot of 3D images to help talk through a lot of the different components so everyone could get a good idea of the final concept.

Where there any surprises when the renovation started and the walls were opened up?

There were, but we had the benefit of having an early demolition package that gave us a little bit of a lag there so we could really respond to what we were finding during the demolition and pick it up.  For example, the demolition of the existing hardwood flooring on the second and third floors required us to come back and provide several inches of additional concrete to repair it.  I was expecting to only have the float the floors a bit so that was a huge surprise to us.  There was also a vault that was downstairs in the basement.  We knew it had a lot of masonry but we didn’t know that there was another concrete slab ceiling associated with it.

Is this a LEED project and are there sustainable elements in the project?

Yes – We are pursuing LEED Silver Certification.  The most visible element to the public is an electric charging station outside supported by FirstEnergy.  The majority of the LEED points are in the infrastructure because the original system was from the 1940’s and literally on its last legs.  Every system in that building is brand new so a lot of our LEED efficiencies are coming from the HVAC, the electrical, and the plumbing systems.

This is a significant project for the Akron community that had a lot of local involvement in the design and building process.  Could you share your thoughts on this?

I am not sure that I’ve ever been involved in a project that had so many meetings or interest from outside entities other than the Owner.  At the top of the list is the ABIA and the CSIHE committee, but because they are made up of partner organizations from NEOMED, UA, Akron Children’s, Summa Health System and Akron General, there was a layer of involvement  that included these groups.  In addition, First Energy, the Development Finance Authority (Previously known as the Summit County Port Authority) and the County of Summit had an important financial stake in the project which necessitated their participation also.   The challenge when working in large groups is to always keep the project moving forward and to not let things get bogged down, as sometimes it’s hard to please so many people.  Fortunately, everyone involved shared the same goal and vision for the project.  I was very impressed with working w/ Summit County.  Ed Garland provided  the design team with access to the building, existing documents and a wealth of knowledge on the building when documents couldn’t be found.  Steve Zimmerman and Jason Dodson, at an administrative level, were extremely helpful in keeping the project moving, helping in the decision-making process and relaying information to the staff working in the building.  It was difficult to keep three floors of the building occupied during a 16 month construction period, especially during the demolition phase, but the employees in the building were extremely patient with us.  I believe that everyone who occupies that building can be proud of the effort that was put into the project.