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Mesa College’s Math and Science Building nearly halfway complete

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An artist’s rendering shows the south-facing façade of the new Math and Science Building at Mesa College.Students are set to return to campus shortly, and construction crews will have to find ways to complete the project without being disruptive.

At 206,000 square feet, the new Math and Science Building at San Diego Mesa College is taking shape as the roughly $110 million giant on campus.

When it opens in August 2013, the four-story building will be the center of the school’s biology, chemistry, physical science and mathematics studies. Situated immediately east of the existing Learning and Resource Building, and south of the I-300 Building, the project will bring to Mesa College new regular classrooms, computer classrooms, lab rooms and faculty, staff and administrative support space.

It will even boast a greenhouse, a rooftop astronomy observation center and exterior landscaping to include globally-themed gardens and landscapes, such as the Australian Garden and South African Garden.

Ursula Kroemer, a spoksperson for the district’s Proposition S and Proposition N bond programs, said the themed gardens, which will serve as hands-on teaching aids, are one of the most anticipated parts of the project.

“They’re really using these as kind of outdoor learning spaces,” she said. “They will not only be very aesthetic, but they will be great gathering places for students.”

Funded by Proposition N, one of two large San Diego Community College District construction bond programs totaling nearly $1.6 billion, the Math and Science building is the second major project general contractor McCarthy Building Companies has worked on at Mesa College. It’s also the third project McCarthy has worked on for the district, having previously built the new three-story, 50,000-square-foot Allied Health Building at Mesa College and the new Miramar College parking structure and police substation.

Construction began on the building in June 2011.

McCarthy Senior Vice President Robert Betz, who is the lead project director, said that the most challenging aspect of the project has been that the large build is taking place in the heart of the Mesa College campus, a physical challenge to all construction activity.

But construction crews have managed, thanks to close cooperation with the district and detailed planning that has largely allowed them to avoid unforeseen changes, he said.

“Outside of that, it’s a very detailed project,” Betz said, noting the large amount of structural steel given the building size, and the large material deliveries and installations that went with having so much.

He also spoke to the challenges in creating the building’s shell.

“It’s a pretty detailed exterior façade on this structure, and as a result, we did a lot of BIM (building information modeling) to ensure that all these different scopes of work could be put in place without any conflicts,” Betz said.

Inside and out, the building will include about 75,000 square feet of glass and 91,000 square feet of pre-cast concrete. Those two components will combine to make the majority of the building’s façade.

About 41,000 square feet of aluminum composite paneling will also be used on the building’s “thrust boxes,” or the protruding areas of the building that will jut out from the two planned lobby areas on the south and west sides.

As the calendar turns to August, construction crews are experiencing a reprieve from the usual crowds on campus. But break time for students means a ramping up of effort from construction crews to complete as much of the most potentially disruptive construction as possible, before the crowds return.

McCarthy’s senior project manager on the job site, Ross Malik, said the current focus is on the installation of the pre-cast concrete panels, which requires the use of a 250-ton crane and comes with its own specific challenges.

Design plans calls for several of the pre-cast panels to be installed underneath overhangs around the building in places Malik said require great precision. Aspects like that remind him of why the design team meticulously used BIM to model virtually every part of the project.

“The tolerances that we’re dealing with on this job — some of it’s down to a half inch,” Malik estimated. “When you combine all the tolerances of steel, structural steel, fireproofing and all that, things get pretty tight.”

Also going up right now is the exterior window panel system, which Malik said is also progressing smoothly because of the detailed modeling.

“We just started a day ago with the windows systems, and we’re almost done with one whole side of one floor — we’ll be done by the end of the day,” Malik said in an interview on Aug. 1. At that pace, he expected to complete all sides of the first floor within a week.

While the glass installations will continue for a few weeks, much of the pre-cast erection will be completed by the time students return to classes in late August, Malik said.

By the end of the year, the building is expected to be substantially enclosed, with the roofing system completed and all mechanical equipment on the building rooftop installed. By then, interior drywall is expected to be the focus in the months leading up to the building opening.

Project designers at the architectural firm Delawie — formerly Architects Delawie Wilkes Rodrigues Barker — designed the building with sustainability in mind. It’s expected to obtain a LEED Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, partially because of all the natural lighting from the glass curtain wall and wood surfaces being made from caramelized bamboo — which is considered sustainable because bamboo does not require re-planting after harvesting.

Kroemer said that between the staging aspects of the project, the meticulous modeling, the gardens that double as teaching tools and all the LEED aspirations of the new building, it’s a fine example in lean construction.

“This (project) is certainly demonstrating the epitome of some of the lean principles,” Kroemer said.

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