March 11, 2020

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Sep. 4, 2020.

DPR installed 10 prefabricated modules for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. The Tumor Infiltrating Lymphocytes (TIL) Cell Processing Modular Facility, where the National Cancer Institute (NCI) delivers cutting-edge cancer treatment, is the first large-scale, fully prefabricated and modular multi-module cGMP manufacturing facility of its kind ever built in the United States.

DPR workers finalize installation of a modular unit at the NIH project.
DPR workers finalize installation of a modular unit at the NIH project. Photo courtesy of Ulf Wallin Photography

The prefabricated modules were supplied by subcontractor Germfree’s Ormond Beach, Florida, manufacturing facility. The modules, which span an average 14 x 40 feet each, include a cell processing suite, cleanroom lab space, a cold storage room, office and work spaces and more.

Construction crews undertook an extremely complex rigging procedure to move the modules into place. It involved a carefully choreographed sequence of rigging and hoisting the 40,000- to 50,000-pound modules some 35 to 40 feet into the air, over the structural steel exterior building envelope and through the open roof to set them in place on their foundations.

Magnifying the challenge, the entire operation took place a mere 40 feet from two adjacent, fully operational medical and research buildings. Vibration monitoring required close coordination with users in adjacent buildings to ensure that sensitive activities were not affected. “The logistics of planning the rigging was extremely complex,” commented DPR Project Executive Jeff Vertucci. He noted that the decision to construct the building’s exterior structural steel frame prior to installing the modules – essentially building the structure from the outside in – helped the team keep to schedule even as elements of the project changed. It is just one example of the solution-oriented approach adopted by the DPR-led design-build team working in concert with Germfree, architect Perkins & Will, and owner/end user, NIH and NCI.

The DPR team prepares a modular unit to be hoisted into the NIH structure.
DPR worked with its design-build team to develop a complex rigging plan that helped ensure project schedule. Photo courtesy of Ulf Wallin Photography

“We were already well into design and planning when we collaborated with our customer to recalibrate the scope for NIH, while also retaining a schedule that met their needs,” Vertucci said. “By enclosing the building and getting structural steel erected before the modules showed up, then reworking a rigging plan to drop the modules in through the roof, it made the rigging much more challenging but allowed us to save at least three months versus a traditional approach.”

That solution worked so well that NIH has asked DPR to re-sequence another job they are currently building on campus, the six-module CCDTM project, using the same approach, according to Vertucci. This DTM Modular Facility is using the same Germfree components as the TIL Facility.

Groundbreaking Technology

As DPR’s seventh project on the NIH campus, the TIL facility is a groundbreaking project in the world of cancer treatment. DPR Project Manager Ignacio Diaz said the facility’s lifesaving mission has provided the design and construction team extra motivation to work collaboratively and overcome an array of challenges in order to get the project up and running as quickly as possible.

“This is one of those jobs that did not need much outside influence to motivate people,” Diaz commented. “Cancer is such a common thing; virtually everybody is touched by it. The fact that we are building this facility that really impacts almost everybody is powerful. It gives us more incentive to finish fast so the end users, the researchers, can get to doing what they do – curing cancer, or at least helping to do so.”

A worker welds at the NIH project
A worker welds at the NIH project. Photo courtesy of Ulf Wallin Photography

Leveraging Expertise to Move Project Forward

With a footprint spanning approximately 6,000 sq. ft., the TIL Cell Processing Modular Facility is supported by an auger pile foundation drilled as deep as 30 feet. The structure has three levels: a bottom floor “crawl space” that follows the existing site slope, containing gas piping that includes the supplies of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Liquid Nitrogen (LN2) to the facility; a first floor comprising the 10 prefabricated modules; and a mechanical floor above. The mechanical level contains the building’s HVAC system, including two air handling units and two exhaust fans, electrical conduit for building controls and power systems, IT infrastructure and more.

Since being awarded the project in October 2017, DPR leveraged its design management capabilities, its technical construction skills and its off-site construction management expertise to help keep the project moving forward while contending with underground utility rerouting, logistical challenges and tight site access, among other things. When the owner needed to make extensive programming changes to reconfigure the facility’s planned workflow during the design phase, DPR worked to re-sequence the project’s construction processes in order to make up some of the lost time.

Construction formally kicked off on the TIL Facility jobsite in August 2018, just two months after the off-site module prefabrication work was getting underway at Germfree’s Florida manufacturing plant.

An aerial view of the NIH project shows a modular unit in place inside the building.
From above, it's easy to see how the modular units piece together inside the structure. Photo courtesy of Ulf Wallin Photography

Modular Construction Delivers Quality Benefits

Off-site construction has provided significant quality and quality control benefits, according to Vertucci. Both the modules and the majority of the building systems were prefabricated off-site.

“I think ultimately NIH & NCI ends up with a phenomenally high-quality, state-of-the-art project when this is completed,” Vertucci commented. “Building this in a controlled environment in a warehouse manufacturing facility, by Germfree technicians who do this work all the time, makes the quality excellent.”

Adding to the quality control benefits, DPR self-performed significant portions of the work with its own crews, including all exterior framing, sheeting, vapor barriers, doors, masonry and various other items.

Push Towards Completion

The project team also had an integrated commissioning plan to allow the owner’s Commissioning Qualification and Validation (CQV) agent to start with commissioning of systems earlier and more time to work through the NIH document reviews that come with the cGMP facility requirements.

DPR also handled all scientific equipment procurement on the project for the owner, a turnkey approach to project delivery that adds additional value for the client. This integrated approach ensured that DPR’s scientific equipment team handed over a project with the necessary components needed for the research program the space is being used for.