Penn State University



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State College, Pennsylvania

August 2013

22,500 sq. ft.

Construction Management


2014 R&D Magazine, Lab of the Year - High Honors
2013 AIA New England, Honor Award


Torcon was construction manager for the Eva J. Pell Laboratory for Advanced Biological Studies at Penn State University's University Park campus. The facility was completed in August 2013.

The new 22,500 sq. ft. building provides high-containment labs to support research for immunology and infectious diseases, including research of insect-transmitted afflictions such as influenza and virus.  

Early in 2014, Pell Lab won R&D Magazine's High Honors award in the publication's annual Laboratory of the Year competition. This award is Torcon's fifth project to win a Lab of the Year award, and our second with Payette. The facility also won an Honor Award from the New England chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). The Pell Lab was one of only three honor awards selected from more than 400 submissions. Congratulations to Penn State and to Payette.

The Pell lab is a stand-alone, self-contained facility. The building can accommodate multiple research groups in the 6,500 nsf of high-containment research space, plus provide additional square footage for supporting offices and conference space. The Pell Lab was optimized to provide the maximum amount of high-containment research space, with researchers in the facility having labs (lower containment level) and offices elsewhere on campus.

Sterilization techniques are methodically used to prevent any contaminants exiting or entering the building. Dedicated boilers onsite produce steam, which is then used for the steam-powered autoclaves that sterilize solid waste from the facility. The boilers have two sources of water, which is available exclusively for use by the laboratory. Other items that are brought in or out of the facility must pass through a decontamination chamber which uses vapor hydrogen peroxide for sterilization.  Other features include HEPA filters located in each biological safety cabinet, which protect against 99.97% of bacteria and viruses.  Epoxy resin floor finishes and impact resistant drywall prevent pathogens from building up in surface imperfections.  All surfaces in the lab are smooth and easy to clean while all the exam, procedure and holding rooms are air-tight.

With such highly contagious biological agents inside, added security is necessary for the Pell Lab.  A high-security fence surrounding the site acts as the first layer of protection. Entry at the main gate is controlled via key pad and is also under full video surveillance. At the lab entrance door a biometric reading is taken allowing only authorized personnel to enter the facility.

Designed by Payette, the sometimes called “Bio-Barn” resembles the traditional style of a barn, while incorporating modern elements of an  biocontainment laboratory. The building is divided into two zones, the head house and bio-containment zone. The office space, break and conference rooms located in the head house portion of the lab boast large windows with ample daylight, not typical of BSL labs since all windows must be blast proof.  A window on the North end of the facility provides daylight throughout the long corridor of the lab, but it also allows for future expansion of the facility. The bio-containment zone, housing procedure rooms and holding areas, is distinguished by the concrete masonry units making up the façade of the building, capped off with angled metal-paneled roof.

The building is tracking LEED Gold certification, which is unusual for these types of research facilities with high-intake air handling units. This state of the art lab will attract and retain high caliber researchers from all over the globe.

For more information about Pell Lab, check out this story on Tradeline's website:

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