The University Record, June 17, 2002

Institute staff take tour of new building

By Karl Leif Bates
Life Sciences Institute

Zhaohui Xu, assistant professor of biological chemistry (from left), Carol Simon, senior U-M architect, and Bob Kaminski, U-M construction manager, review LSI building plans. (Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)
Faculty and staff of the Life Sciences Institute were able to set foot in their new building for the first time June 7 during an exclusive “hard-hat tour” of the Palmer Drive construction site.

A dozen people donned hard hats and hard-soled shoes for a tour through the 235,000 square foot facility buzzing with dusty construction activity. Barton Malow Site Manager Brent Bohan, U-M Senior Architect Carol Simon, and U-M Construction Manager Bob Kaminski led the tour. U-M Plant Extension Director Marina Roelofs also accompanied the tour.

There are more than 270 trades people on the site right now, which also includes a parking deck and a commons building, Kaminski said.

Because the two banks of elevators haven’t been installed, the tour started with a ride in the construction elevator, a blue steel box that rattles up a track on the side of the building. The group went all the way to the roof to see just how huge the 20 vent stacks are and took in a spectacular view that included stately Stockwell Hall, the green of Palmer field, the Burton Memorial Tower, the Rackham Building, the Medical Center and treetops all the way north to the horizon.

The top two floors of the Institute are essentially the same design: a 300-foot central hallway lined with shared equipment rooms; faculty offices clustered together on the ends; and four open laboratory areas with large windows around the outside of the building. The open floor plan facilitates interaction between research teams and makes the building more flexible for changing needs. Each of the four lab areas is designed to accommodate 30 researchers.

“This is going to be a really great place to do science,” said LSI Director Jack Dixon, as he stood in a space that is little more than smooth concrete flooring and bare steel studs. Workers are still putting in ductwork for air handling and plumbing to support the labs.

Liz Barry, managing director of the Life Sciences Institute (LSI), and Jack Dixon, LSI director, look toward the Commons Building on the 5th floor of the Institute. (Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)

The sixth floor will be the first to be completed so scientists can start to move their labs into the building.

“It’s pretty big, but I think we ought to take out that wall to make it my office,” joked LSI Associate Director Alan Saltiel as he sized up a sunny faculty office on the East end of the building.

“You can really see that we’re right in the middle of campus here,” said LSI Managing Director Liz Barry. “This view of U-M buildings in all directions shows just how this is meant as a real bridge between the two campuses.”

The building’s lobby, shared core laboratories and the administrative offices will be on the third floor, which is the same level as a pedestrian plaza and bridge over Washtenaw Ave. For now, it’s still three stories up however, as work on a 1,100-space parking deck continues. Once the parking structure is completed, the plaza will stretch across to form part of its roof and construction can then begin on the Undergraduate Science Education Building. That four-story building for classrooms and teaching labs will stand atop the remainder of the parking structure.

The tour finished with a trip across the street to see the steel and masonry mock-up of a section of the Institute’s exterior wall that stands next to the CCRB pedestrian bridge. The contractors are building a small model of the exterior to finalize the design, which melds six different kinds of stone: two kinds of gray granite from California, two kinds of limestone from Indiana, and brownstone and sandstone from Germany, both in a rose-pink hue.

“This is a special building so we’re taking some extra steps,” said Simon.

“It’s exciting to stand there in the space and see that it’s really happening,” Barry said. “But we still have so much to do!”

To watch the construction activity live on the Web, go to