By Grey Lee

In the interests of full disclosure, I submitted this building for the recent Green Building of the Year Award. My connection to this building is not as a member of the project team, but as one who gets to work in this building on a daily basis. I lived through the considerable challenges that the builders, architects, and occupants faced. It was observing this project that helped crystallized my long-running passion for green building.  

Imagine being tasked with turning an asbestos laden, archaic, 1950's era building that sits on a Brownfields site that used to house open tanks of raw sewerage into a state of the art laboratory for the advancement of environmental science. Now, imagine being told that it's a state building and obviously budget will be a major concern. Finally, you are told that all of the functions at this lab are critical to the Commonwealth and all activities must continue without impact; all workers must remain on site and their extremely delicate equipment must remain operational throughout. 

That was the challenge. One of the difficulties was that the old portion of the building was completely renovated except for one tiny 12×12 portion. This room was an environmentally controlled chamber that had to maintain humidity and temperature within extremely tight ranges.  Inside, it housed a robot that was capable of measuring the weight of a fingerprint. It was used to measure airborne particles that are so small that over 700 of them would fit in the diameter of a human hair. When inhaled, these particles directly contribute to hospital admissions for cardiac and respiratory distress. The state monitors the levels of this pollutant and thus the importance of this small space. This chamber stayed operational and free of contamination, not missing a single sample, while the building was literally gutted and rebuilt around it. Not only did the building meet the challenge, but it also achieved LEED Platinum certification.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection William X. Wall Experiment Station, located in Lawrence Massachusetts, has been transformed into a state of the art green building. Worldwide there are 52,152 LEED certified projects, but only 1,029 (or 1.97%) are certified at the Platinum level. Of those achieving Platinum certification, only 29 in the world are LEED Platinum Laboratories. Within the 29 certified at a Platinum level, the vast majority are New Construction. The William X Wall Experiment Station not only achieved LEED Platinum certification as part of a renovation to an existing building, it also did so when the existing building was designated as a Brownfields site.

The old facility was constructed in 1954 and was inadequate to handle the complex testing protocols required by today's environmental science. The WXW Experiment Station houses 52 FTE's and is the state's principle drinking water laboratory. The facility also annually performs over 15,000 lab analysis of contaminates in air, water, waste water, soil, hazardous wastes, fish, environmental evidence, and other environmental samples. The state's ambient air monitoring efforts are housed in the facility as well as the Massachusetts Occupational Safety laboratories. The building contains state of the art laboratory facilities that include clean rooms, DNA testing laboratories, inorganic chemistry laboratories, organic chemistry laboratories, toxicology laboratories, a microbiology lab, air monitoring laboratories, and 2.5 micron respirable particulate gravimetric chamber; it also houses laboratory support facilities such as building wide scientific gasses storage, hazardous waste rooms, dedicated wash rooms, high efficiency fume hoods, dedicated sample prep rooms, mechanical workshops, laboratory equipment rooms, and quality assurance lab space.

The project added 13,000 square feet of laboratory space and a major renovation of the 22,000 square foot existing lab. During the entire construction period the laboratory had to continue to operate a full capacity. During this time, all samples were analyzed and all quality assurance benchmarks had to be met. Technical systems audits, conducted by the EPA, insured that data quality objectives were achieved. The project was a 4 year, 2 phase project. All laboratory operations had to be moved multiple times and personnel had to be housed on site in construction trailers.

MassDEP, Massachusetts Division of Capital Asset Management (DCAM) and the design firm of Perkins + Will and RDK Engineers planned the project. O'Connor Constructors, Inc. was the project's construction manager.

As a top notch laboratory, the building required some unusual features. It needed Reverse Osmosis Deionized Water available in every laboratory. The labs had to be plumbed for ultra high purity laboratory grade gasses. Any source of potential contamination had to be eliminated. The entire building needed the ability to change its air within minutes. Data handling infrastructure had to be robust in order to handle the massive amounts of data that the instruments would generate. Safety features such as positive pressure labs, eyewash stations, decon showers, and emergency communications had to be incorporated throughout the work spaces. The building needed back up power and other systems to remain functional in the event of a disaster. Also, the building needs to be secure and capable in the event that it is ever called upon to analyze biological threats. 


The green upgrades include: a 52.5 kW solar photo-voltaic system for on-site renewable energy production; use of the existing site as a Brownfield redevelopment; maximizing open space; rain gardens and storm water detention basins to protect the adjacent Merrimack River; water efficient landscaping; high performance roof; green-roofed areas; rain water harvesting for reuse in toilets and cooling tower; water efficient plumbing (40% savings); optimized energy performance (greater than 21% over baseline, 5 LEED points); day lighting of 75% of the space; plug in charging for 2 electric vehicles; bicycle storage room and shower facilities; lighting controls; ventilation air monitoring; low emitting, regional, and recycled materials, and other strategies as well. A measurement and verification plan, as well as enhanced commissioning, has been incorporated to insure that the building continues to meet its certification.

The Lawrence Experiment Station was founded in 1887 and it was one of the first laboratories in the world dedicated to environmental research. In 2013, the newly renovated laboratory became one of the few LEED Platinum labs in the world and is poised to be on the vanguard of environmental science for years to come.

Kevin Dufour is an Environmental Scientist with Viridis Advisors. He collaborates with Tom Irwin on creating greener greenscapes. The opinions expressed by member bloggers are their own and not necessarily those of the USGBC Massachusetts Chapter.

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