High-Tech Case Study: Leaps And Bounds - Facility Executive Magazine - Creating Intelligent Buildings

In Kansas City, MO, the Midwest Research Institute has revitalized its headquarters.

In Kansas City, MO, the Midwest Research Institute has revitalized its headquarters.

High-Tech Case Study: Leaps And Bounds

High-Tech Case Study: Leaps And Bounds - Facility Executive Magazine - Creating Intelligent Buildings

By Anne Cosgrove
Published in the January 2010 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

high-tech laboratory facility renovation LEED construction

As the 21st century began, management at the Midwest Research Institute (MRI) looked toward the future. Established in 1944, this not-for-profit scientific research organization had been undergoing vast growth in its work, providing contract research and laboratory consulting services to clients in government, industry, and academia.

MRI’s headquarters facility in Kansas City, MO was built in 1954, and over five decades, several building additions have enabled the Institute to keep pace with its operational growth, which currently employs about 420 people. Eventually, though, it became apparent that a wholesale assessment of the 220,000 square foot facility was in order.

In 2000, the Institute hired PGAV Architects of Westwood, KS to create a campus master plan for the organization. For this undertaking, existing facilities were analyzed for building utilization and compared with industry benchmarks.

The master plan, completed in 2002, was in place when MRI decided to begin making changes to the campus several years later. At that point, the available budget meant an entire campus renovation was out of reach, and it was decided the first move would be to renovate 80,000 square feet of the headquarters.

The area included in the project spanned the second floor in two of the campus’ three wings. The spaces renovated were in the Kimball Building (constructed in 1954) and adjacent Spencer Building (erected in 1968).

In both buildings, the areas renovated were comprised of labs, offices, and support spaces.

Describing the campus’ growth previous, Mark Breitenstein, director of facilities management at MRI since 1999, says, “Over the years, facility changes resulted in labs and offices being added throughout all three wings. It got to the point where there were so many walls and doors, it was prohibitive. So the decision was made to make a broad, sweeping change. That’s when we teamed up with PGAV, and we started the planning process with key stakeholders.”high-tech laboratory facility renovation modular

In addition to satisfying the growth in research activities, there was also a strong desire to reinvigorate the facility to be more energy efficient and occupant friendly; this included a focus on green design. Consequently, 23,500 square feet of the renovation project was registered for LEED for New Construction (NC) 2.2 Certified status—an achievement recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council in December 2009.

In planning the project, MRI considered demolishing the existing facility to make way for a new structure. However, as Breitenstein explains, MRI recognized the environmental impact made when a site is razed and a new structure is built. “We had the desire to be mindful of the value we already had in place,” he says. “By renovating, we could minimize the effects on others and reduce environmental impacts.”

Expanded Capability, Same Footprint

In designing the layout for this renovation, PGAV architects worked with Breitenstein and key MRI stakeholders (including a group of researchers) to determine how the project would take shape. With the twin goals of improving facilities to support leading edge research activities and achieving LEED certification, the project team focused on including flexible lab spaces, collaborative office areas, increased natural daylight, and energy efficient building systems.

A Chat With Mark Breitenstein, director of facilities management, Midwest Research Institute

Mark Breitenstein, director of facilities management, Midwest Research Institute (courtesy of MRI)

What are your responsibilities at the Midwest Research Institute (MRI) headquarters facility? As director of facilities management at MRI, I am responsible for support services functions including maintenance, custodial, grounds, property management, and construction.

How long have you worked at MRI? How long have you been in the facility management (FM) profession? I have worked here since 1999. I have been in FM for 32 years.

What notable changes have occurred in FM during your tenure in the profession?
The electronics have become more compact and have far greater capabilities. We have near real-time condition reporting of HVAC systems around the building. Communication has also improved, and staff can be redirected quickly to needs around the facility as they develop. Overall, we have more information at our disposal. 

Now that the renovation is complete and LEED Certified, what’s next? We are looking out 10 years and considering our next major renovation.

Galen Lif, AIA, LEED AP, architect at PGAV, says, “We looked at all of the spaces and how the facilities were being used. We then made recommendations on how to group areas of similar use together. We also focused on adding density to staff spaces and increasing openness and daylight to make it a more pleasant working environment.”

Speaking to Lif’s point, Breitenstein says, “The use of space was the primary factor in our planning effort. A central aim was to maximize open and inviting labs and support spaces. This was accomplished by improving daylighting and eliminating closed in areas. The result was a 46% increase in lab bench space and 150 additional seats in office areas—all within the existing footprint.”

Lab functionality and efficiency were addressed with several strategies. One aim was for the labs to accommodate different types of research activities, whatever the space or equipment needs. Breitenstein explains, “We had a series of meetings with researchers and penciled out some designs. Galen’s team was great at helping us get those visualized for the staff. We also thought about potential needs in the future—if we changed projects in a lab, for instance, or the things we see on the technological horizon related to science—and incorporated smart features and openness that would allow for that.”

Says Lif, “We wanted to create a space that wouldn’t box [occupants] into a certain type of research. We wanted to provide a larger, open, modular space that researchers could reconfigure more easily as their needs change.”

To that end, PGAV established a 10’6″ wide lab module (a template that will be carried over to future campus renovations). Depending on the wing of the building, some lab rooms are deeper, providing longer bench and equipment space. Even within those bigger spaces, the 10’6″ footprint serves as a base.

To foster flexibility, moveable casework and overhead utilities were used in portions of the lab design. These factors allow the spaces to be used for multiple, smaller projects or rearranged for use in a single, large project. Says Lif, “We met with end users to discover their equipment and power/utility needs. We then tried to arrange those things so if a particular project ended and a new one began, the space could be easily reconfigured with new equipment and a connection to the existing utilities.

“This led us to use the overhead utility design and the moveable casework,” he continues. “We tried to keep things that needed to be fixed along perimeter walls and to keep the middle of the rooms as flexible as possible.”

An open, modular approach was also chosen for the redesign of office spaces. The predominant floor plan had consisted of offices (both shared and private) situated across hallways from lab rooms. This meant the labs were largely closed off from views of the rest of the facility, not to mention natural daylight. The transformation of office spaces from enclosed rooms to an open plan brought many of the labs out into the action.

Says Lif, “The research staff wanted to be close to their labs, while not necessarily working in them all day. Before the renovation, a typical situation was for two or three people to share a walled office across the hall from a lab. This new design took down the walls, which enables the staff to be closer to their research while also having a visual connection.high-tech laboratory facility daylighting LEED construction (In the photos below, the “before” photo (top) is in stark contrast to the “after” photo below it.)

“Also, the fewer walls there are,” he adds, “the more opportunity there is for modularity and increased density.”

Doing away with the hallways between labs and offices not only served to increase the collaborative nature of the facility, it also brightened up the space. In fact, the removal of office and corridor walls resulted in providing views to the exterior for more than 90% of occupants.

Explains Breitenstein, “We gutted wall to outside wall—to sweep away the cobbled footprint and start anew with modern, open, collaborative spaces and 21st century laboratories. The idea was to leap ahead rather than re-renovate on a smaller scale and not reap the benefits of a new facility.”high-tech laboratory facility daylighting LEED construction

Earning LEED Certification

In pursuing LEED, the design took into consideration several major aspects of the MRI facility. These included changes to lighting, more energy efficient building systems and lab equipment, improved building envelope, reduced water use, and recycling efforts (by occupants and construction related).

The age of the buildings presented a few challenges to improving sustainability—a notable one being the relatively low floor to floor heights. “These were only 11′, and for labs, we try to get at least 14′,” says Lif. “That helps to place all the necessary ductwork and utilities. So we had tight constraints.”

Regarding energy use, on average, lab spaces use up to five times as much as a typical office building of comparable size. The project team sought to keep this consumption as low as possible with several strategies. In addition to bringing natural daylight into those spaces, the team specified equipment to boost efficiency. This included replacing 40 lab hoods with low-flow models (cutting air consumption and equivalent energy use in these areas by about 40%) and replacing 40 hood exhaust fans with 14 fans (while achieving energy savings of about 30%).

Says Breitenstein, “Our sustainability has been greatly improved by the renovation work. Our reconstruction activities going forward have been minimized by smart design and flexibility.”

He points out that the impact of typical “between project changes” will now be largely avoided due to practices established with this project. “The designs we used in the project will be carried forward in future major renovations at MRI. This will help us eventually to get to an entire campus that is up to date and environmentally sound.”

On Budget, On Time

Each phase of the MRI renovation was completed on, or ahead of, time. Thus, the project was completed a month ahead of schedule and did not exceed budget. Breitenstein explains that MRI tightened up the construction schedule and budget prior to committing to contracts. “Everyone understood we needed to reduce the inconvenience factor for lab staff and the impact on business operations,” he says. “We also required tight cost control and had a tight budget cap. Procurement of project attributes had to have just-in-time consideration. There was little on-site storage, and scheduled activities had little or no fudge factor.”

From PGAV’s perspective, Lif notes, “We had a great working relationship with the contractor, and there were very consistent construction and progress meetings. Also, the MRI facilities staff played a huge part in informing people when work would be done and in telling us when we could do certain pieces of the work and when we couldn’t.”

Breitenstein adds, “One key aspect was that we had zero days in schedule creep due to change orders as far as the critical path went. We always asked, ‘how many days will this impact the schedule?’ as soon as we knew about something. This was a real success story on its own.

“So the fact that we were ahead of schedule, had no creep because of change orders, and it was an existing building—hidden conditions are always there and they always cause trouble at the most inconvenient time—were the things I was most happy about.”

This article was based on an interview with Breitenstein and Lif. Find out more at the Midwest Research Institute Web site (www.mriresearch.org).

To share your new construction or renovation project, e-mail [email protected]. Past Case Study articles can be found here.


Project Information:


Name Of Facility: Midwest Research Institute. Type Of Facility: Existing laboratory complex. Function Of Facility: High-tech research (engineering, life sciences, chemistry, energy). Location: Kansas City, MO. Square Footage: 80,000 square foot (renovated within a 220,000 square foot campus). Budget: $24 million (including high-tech specialty labs). Construction Timetable: January 2007-January 2009. Cost Per Square Foot: $300. Facility Owner: Midwest Research Institute. In-House Facility Manager/Project Manager: Mark Breitenstein, director of facilities management. Architect/Interior Designer: PGAV Architects (Mike Schaadt, PIC; Michelle Gangel, PM; Galen Lif, PA). General Contractor/Construction Manager: JE Dunn Construction Company. Electrical/Mechanical Engineer: Henderson Engineers. Structural Engineer: Walter P. Moore. Lighting Designer: PGAV Architects; Henderson Engineers. Commissioning Agent: AccuTec Services, Inc.


Product Information:


Furniture: Allsteel. Flooring: Desco Epoxy; Armstrong; Roppe. Carpet: Lees. Ceilings: Armstrong. Wallcoverings/Textiles: Novawall. Paint: Sherwin-Williams. Surfacing: Trespa; Wilsonart International; Corian. Building Management System/Services: Honeywell. CMMS Software: MPulse Maintenance Software. Safety Equipment: Activar, Inc. (fire extinguishers). Lighting Products: Lithonia; LSI; PMC Lighting; IOTA Engineering (ballasts); Hubbell (occupancy sensors). HVAC Equipment: Carrier; Greenheck; Phoenix Valves. Power Supply Equipment: GE. Roofing: Johns Manville; Tremco. Exit Signs: Chloride-Genlyte. Windows: Tubelite. Window Treatments: Hunter Douglas (blinds). Elevators: Otis Elevator Company.

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