University of Pennsylvania



  • Project Details
  • Project Overview

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

February 2011

8,500 sq. ft.

Construction Management

Torcon provided construction management services to the University of Pennsylvania for renovations to a 2,500 sq. ft. BSL-3 lab suite in Johnson Pavilion, floors 3 to 5; and a 5,000 sq. ft. ABSL-3 suite in the middle of an active vivarium in Stemmler Hall, 5th Floor. These “ship in a bottle” projects were completed while ensuring Penn’s continued occupation and use of adjacent spaces.

Areas renovated under this program were gutted down to the structure, including the removal of all of utilities servicing the existing space. A significant upgrade of HVAC systems was required, encompassing all new ductwork, custom air handling units and automatic temperature controls (ATC). The new equipment, distribution network and systems were fit into the existing ceiling cavities and mechanical areas. The upgraded systems also included a new stand-by power emergency generator, new security systems, and room pressurization.

Challenges on the project primarily related to completing the renovations within fully occupied buildings and building on a site with no material laydown/storage space. Access to the buildings was made through a shared loading dock. Torcon coordinated with the buildings’ users and department heads each day to ensure an efficient flow of manpower and materials was achieved. Weekly planning meetings were conducted to discuss the impact of construction on building operations and to help plan the work around ongoing University activities.

Torcon’s work on each floor accommodated Penn’s research in adjacent spaces, including the mitigation of dust, debris, noise, and vibration. Our experience-based understanding of the adverse impact of construction in research labs and academic facilities enabled Torcon’s team to develop creative solutions, such as:

  • Installing negative air units to prevent dust migration. 
  • Installing temporary partitions to control debris and to create a safety barrier between the construction and existing labs. 
  • Shifting noise and vibration-causing operations to times that minimized the impact to the users on each floor.

The coordination effort not only included UPenn, but also the neighboring Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). The majority of the new HVAC equipment and main duct runs were located on the roof. The only way to access the roof, by crane, was to set up behind Stemmler Hall, at the delivery entrance to CHOP.

Torcon coordinated with Penn Police, maintained a secondary access for ambulances, maintained radio contact with the helipad for medical transport, and kept one lane of the street open at all times. The successful integration with all of these stakeholders allowed the construction to progress on schedule and maintained ongoing operations for Penn and their neighbors.
Torcon’s successful management of project and site activities was attributable to the following project keys:

  • More communication is better, with both subcontractors and the client
  • Planning is essential. All activities must be planned, analyzed and discussed to avoid missteps. Critical events, such as the AHU crane lift, require significant pre planning.
  • Day-to-day operations should be planned and conducted to limit risk and exposure, with contingencies in place at all times.
  • Always attempt to fully isolate the project’s work zone from the clients, and avoid disturbing adjacent occupants.
  • Implement a program of communication that includes Torcon’s Noise/Dust/Vibration Schedule. This look-ahead scheduling tool is issued to the client each week to alert them to planned construction activities that are potentially disruptive. Notification is given with sufficient time to make required adjustments that will ensure the client’s most sensitive activities are protected.