Education Facility Case Study: Urban Learning

By Anne Cosgrove
Published in the March 2011 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

education research facility Georgia State University constructionDedicated in March 2010, the new Parker H. Petit Science Center at Georgia State University (GSU) in Atlanta brought together the teaching and research facilities of several academic departments under one roof. Already recognized as a leading research university, GSU began planning for the building about 10 years prior to the completion, and a combination of private and public funding made the vision a reality.

The 10 story, 350,000 square foot building, is named after GSU alumnus and healthcare executive Parker H. “Pete” Petit whose financial contribution to the university was a driving force in the project coming to fruition. The facility provides state of the art lab and classroom spaces for students and researchers. Housed there are labs for both the College of the Arts and Sciences and the College of Health and Human Sciences, and the building is occupied by faculty and students involved in GSU’s biology, chemistry, nursing, nutrition, and physical and respiratory therapies programs.

The cross-disciplinary nature of the facility’s occupants also made it an ideal location for the university’s Neuroscience Institute, which occupies the top two floors of the Petit Center. Founded in 2008, the institute promotes research and education in the set of disciplines that have a common interest in understanding the structure and function of the nervous systems of animals, including humans.

Also situated in the building is the Institute of Public Health, a research and graduate level program dedicated to advancing the health of the public through training, research, and community service. Sponsored by the GSU College of Health and Human Sciences, this entity focuses on finding solutions to urban health issues.

An interesting amenity is a “visualization wall,” a 200 million pixel array of computer screens to display large amounts of data. A public health scientist, for instance, can map how disease spreads in an urban area.

Collaborative Space Planning

With a focus on providing a cohesive and collaborative environment for building occupants, the Petit Science Center was designed to foster interaction between faculty, staff, and students. In terms of design aesthetics, this began with the exterior appearance of the main entrance, which features the use of glass.

A Chat With Kimberly Bauer, Director of Facilities Design and Construction, Georgia State University

education research facility professional development construction

How long have you worked in the facilities profession? How long have you been at Georgia State University (GSU)? I’ve been working in the facilities and construction industry for more than 20 years. I’ve been employed at GSU since 1993.

What are your current responsibilities at GSU? In my position, I am responsible for overseeing the design and construction of all the facilities projects on our campus. In my department, there are architects, engineers, construction project managers, and construction inspectors who handle the university projects, and I assist them with keeping the projects on schedule and within budget.

What notable changes have occurred in the facilities construction industry during your tenure in the profession? Technology, in all spheres of our work, has shown major changes. One example of this is BIM [building information modeling]. The Petit Science Center was the first construction project for which I had used BIM, and going forward, we’ll use this technology tool for all major construction projects on campus.

Also, sustainability and the need to improve environmentally friendly purchasing and practices has really come to the forefront. Keeping up with those developments to determine what works best for our facilities is one of the biggest challenges. We want to be proactive in doing what’s best for the university from a maintenance standpoint and for the environment.


Kimberly Bauer, GSU’s director of facilities design and construction services, sheparded the project from the design stages and says, “Many of the departments that now occupy the Petit Science Center had been gathered in multiple buildings, and many of those buildings were old with layouts that did not maximize the fostering of research and communication. This new building allowed us to bring faculty, staff, and students together, and we included strategies that would encourage more interaction.”.

The design of the Petit Science Center included a good deal of glass to show movement and give people the sense that it is an active, exciting building. At the same time, GSU ensures a high level of security throughout the facility.

An example of marrying openness and security can be seen with the monumental staircase in the building’s lobby. Users travel these stairs to reach the second floor where classrooms (both science-specific and general) are located.

Says Bauer, “In our planning meetings with future occupants, one of the other important things suggested was to make this a friendly building where people felt safe to take stairways instead of always having to wait for elevators. Another reason for the lobby stairs—one posed by the Health and Human Sciences Department—was the desire to make the Petit Science Center a healthy building. Making it convenient for occupants to use the stairs was one strategy toward that goal.

“We are able to move a lot of students with those monumental stairs,” she continues. “And we’ve made sure all other stairways are very well lit, very well monitored with cameras, and more open with glass.”

The open lobby design at the Petit Science Center introduces the collaborative environment, and this theme continues further into the facility. Two towers that characterize the building flank either side of the lobby; faculty offices are located in both towers with laboratories behind the lobby. “We designed it that way intentionally,” says Bauer. “People walk from their offices and cross the lobby to reach their labs. It’s introduced a lot more interaction—amongst faculty, between faculty and students, and between researchers and students. In another one of our campus buildings, the Natural Science Center [built in 1993], a person’s office is often directly across from their lab. There isn’t a lot of this interaction.”education research facility Georgia State University construction

Another focus of the building’s design was to create community spaces. Since GSU is an urban campus, there is not a large amount of outdoor green space where students and faculty can congregrate. So where pockets of space in the interior of the building could be used, the team created community areas. These types of spaces can facilitate students sitting and sharing notes, or perhaps a researcher meeting with a student to talk about a project.

Adapting To Circumstances

Set on the eastern edge of GSU’s campus, the Petit Science Center project required Bauer’s team, along with the general contractor, McCarthy Building Companies, Inc., to take the necessary precautions for working in a tight urban setting. This included navigating road and pedestrian traffic, handling construction material deliveries in an efficient fashion, and maintaining a safe and secure site. To address each of these needs, the McCarthy team, led by Joseph Jouvenal, project director for the firm’s Southeast Division, implemented gate access supervision, security grade perimeter fencing, 24/7 security personnel, and the use of a live web cam surveillance firm.

Construction commenced in December 2007 and was completed on schedule in the spring of 2010. All construction projects present challenges and changes, and those facing the Petit Science Center building included having to replace the site soil, a change in energy codes midway through construction, and a regional drought that impacted cooling tower plans.

education research facility Georgia State University constructionDiscussing site conditions, Jouvenal explains, “We encountered subterranean debris in numerous locations. In addition, all of the soil was determined to be unsuitable, since the moisture content was too high and the bearing capacity was too low. While the contract that was in place with GSU ordered each condition to be addressed separately, the state was willing to address the issues together, which enabled the project team to continue on schedule.

“The approach to use a lump sum change order for these conditions is not typically done by the state,” he continues. “However, they were open minded in listening to our plan and acknowledged that the research that was done was valid.”

The inherent complexity of constructing a 10 story building in an urban setting was compounded by the sophisticated equipment required by those who would occupy the education and research facility.

Says Jouvenal, “The building houses high level lab areas, and the construction of those spaces not only included highly specialized finishes but also HVAC and electrical systems considered high density and very difficult to coordinate and plan. Working hand in hand with the users and the design team, these areas were completed without any major issues.”

Another strategy that helped to keep construction on track was the use of building information modeling (BIM)—a process of generating and managing building data using 3D, dynamic modeling software to increase productivity in design, construction, and operation. This was the first GSU project to incorporate BIM, and the university plans to use this tool for all its future major construction projects.

McCarthy’s Jouvenal says, “We used BIM on this project everywhere we could, including general MEP [mechanical, electrical, and plumbing] coordination. This was a new process for some of the subcontractors, so there was an element of training required. Once we got all of the team on the same page, we got down to work.

“We also coordinated the building systems around the architecture and structural aspects of the building,” continues Jouvenal. “One of our greatest victories was recognizing a conflict in the penthouse between some mechanical equipment and the structure. We found this issue early and were able to create a solution that worked for everyone and avoided a $150,000+ construction issue.”education research facility Georgia State University construction

Many of the building occupants were also involved with the use of BIM by being able to take 3D walkthroughs on a computer screen. They were able to see what their spaces were going to look like and to voice any concerns before finishes were installed. “There were numerous changes made throughout the building based on these meetings, and the net change cost $15,000,” says Jouvenal. “Changes like those made after the work had been done would have been exponentially more costly—impossible in some cases. It was a true testament to the value of BIM for other things besides coordination.”

And now GSU has ongoing access to the project’s BIM records, which Bauer and others there can refer to throughout the life cycle of the building. She and her team have not yet had to refer to the BIM documentation since the building opened, “and that’s a good thing,” she quips.

She credits that fact to having included members of the maintenance staff during the construction process. “They were involved prior to the building being completed and were learning the building through the BIM models,” she explains. “The files will also be useful if we bring on new staff members who need to understand where piping or other items are located. And of course the BIM files are a good database; they’re living documents, so if ever we decide to renovate, we can keep the documentation going.”

Change Of Plans

Careful planning is the cornerstone of a successful construction project, and Bauer and the rest of the team worked to attend to that requirement early on. Still, Bauer notes, “The building was programmed over a period of six years, and technology evolves and requirements change. As with any project, it was important to stay flexible and also to think a few steps ahead.”

Two instances where these skills came into play impacted the sustainability of the Petit Science Center for the better—a change in energy codes and a severe drought in the Atlanta region.

“With all of our buildings, we try to practice a lot of sustainability, both for long-term maintenance and the environment,” says Bauer. “Related to this, one alteration we had to make during construction was in response to a change in our state energy codes [based on ASHRAE 90.1-2007]. We were required to install automated lighting controls in a significant portion of the space. Initially, we had manual light switches in all the offices and classrooms, and we changed those to occupancy sensors. We were not able to do this in the labs for the sake of safety; you don’t want the possibility of the lights going out when a researcher is doing work. But we did make use of the occupancy sensors in all the areas that we were able.”

Meanwhile, the building’s future water consumption was reduced through a change to the cooling tower system. During the construction period Atlanta had been experiencing a multi-year drought, and in 2009, the situation was severe. As such, the decision was made to add a condensate recovery system to the cooling tower equipment.

“This recovers the condensate from the cooling towers and reuses the water by putting it back into the system,” explains Bauer. “We’ve calculated that this saves us approximately 2,800,000 gallons of water each year.”

Meeting The Goals

Open for close to a year now, the Petit Science Center is occupied around the clock. Classes take place from early morning until late evening, and research activities are a 24/7 endeavor. Creating spaces that would be functional, convenient, and comfortable was the aim of GSU’s Bauer and the rest of the project team, and they met those aims.

Commenting on his experience, Jouvenal says, “Though the project was successful, it wasn’t without challenges. The true sense of satisfaction was due to the collaborative approach to solving those challenges. There was a dynamic connection between all of the parties responsible for the project.”

Says Bauer, “The building was completed on time and on budget. And the interaction we now see between students, faculty, and researchers also represents a successful project.”

This article was based on interviews with Bauer ( and Jouvenal (

Project Information:

Name Of Facility: Parker H. Petit Science Center. Type of Facility: New. Function of Facility: Higher Education/Science and Technology. Location: Atlanta, GA. Square Footage: 350,000. Budget: $125 million. Construction Timetable: December 2007 to April 2010. Cost Per Square Foot: $357.14. Facility Owner: Georgia State University. In-House Facility Manager/Project Manager: Kimberly Bauer, director of facilities design and construction services, Georgia State University. Architect/Electrical Engineer/Mechanical Engineer/Interior Designer/Lighting Designer/Landscape Architect: CUH2A/HDR; tvsdesign. General Contractor/Construction Manager: McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. Structural Engineer: KSi Structural Engineers. Civil Engineer: PBS&J.

Product Information:

Furniture: Allseating (classrooms/lecture halls); Coalesse (office/lobby); Fixtures (classrooms/lecture halls); KI (classrooms/lecture halls); Krug (office/lobby); Neutral Posture (classrooms/lecture halls); Steelcase Global (office/lobby); Stylex (office/lobby). Flooring: Stonhard (research labs); Quartz Flooring (vinyl tile in classrooms, labs, and lecture halls). Carpet: Bentley (offices). Ceilings: Armstrong. Paint: Benjamin Moore. Audiovisual Equipment: Crestron; Epson (both provided by Avyve). Building Management System: Johnson Controls, Inc. (BMS); Tek-Air (laboratory controls). CAFM Software: Archibus. Security System Components: GE. Fire System Components: Grundfos (pumps); Gwinnett Sprinkler Company (piping and installation); SimplexGrinnell (fire alarms). Other Safety Equipment: Fischer-Hamilton (fume hoods); Nuaire (bio-safety cabinets). Lighting Products: Leviton (labs); Lutron (vivarium). HVAC Equipment: Bell & Gossett (HVAC pumps); Burnham (boilers); Greenheck (fans); York/Johnson Controls (air handlers and chillers). Power Supply Equipment: Eaton Cutler Hammer (switchgear); W.W.Williams (generator). Roofing: Johns Manville. Exit Signs: Dual-Lite. Other Signage: designed by Sky Design (fabricated and installed by Raydeo). Windows/Curtainwalls/Skylights: Vistawall (installed by Trainor Glass). Elevators/Escalators: Thyssen-Krupp.