Research space in the Albert Sherman Center on the UMass Medical School campus
Senior Project Manager
Suffolk Construction Co.
At my company, Boston-based Suffolk Construction, you treat building research space for a Nobel Prize winner like you would every other job: begin collaborating with the various stakeholders early, adopt innovative ways
to overcome challenges that arise, and develop a schedule that
serves the needs of the entire institution.
In this particular case, Suffolk was building environmental
rooms as part of the overall construction of the $400 million
Albert Sherman Center, a 512,000 square-foot biomedical
research and education facility located on the University of
Massachusetts Medical School campus in Worcester, Mass.
The facility is the centerpiece of the state’s multi-year life sciences initiative, and will continue to house the research activities
of Dr. Craig Mello, who received the Nobel Prize in 2006 for his
discovery, along with Andrew Fire, of RNA interference.
Determining the scope
The original scope of the Sherman Center included 22 environmental rooms, designed for temperature control covering a full
temperature range from 4 °C to 37 °C. These rooms consisted
of 16 environmental rooms measuring approximately 9-ft. 8-in.
by 9-ft. 6-in., and six environmental rooms measuring approximately 9-ft. 8-in. by 13-ft. 6-in. The wide operating design
range covers both cold room and warm room user applications—from chromatography research to incubation—allowing
for optimal flexibility for the future as research needs change
As the project was being built, the scope was enlarged to include
two stability rooms and one drosophila (fruit fly) room. The stability rooms were designed to cover a temperature range of 15 °C
to 25 °C as well as control a relative humidity range from 40% to
70%. The drosophila room was designed for a temperature range
of 20 °C to 30 °C, as well as control a relative humidity range from
50% to 70%. The total floor area of research quality environmental
rooms ultimately came to approximately 2,850 square feet.
Working with the Albert Sherman Center staff and
the lab architect, Architectural Resources Cambridge set
forth the project design parameters for the environmental
rooms, which were manufactured and installed by Harris
Environmental Systems, Andover, Mass.
All of the environmental rooms were designed for research
and therefore had their mechanical systems sized to handle the
dynamics typically associated with high user activity, changing
user loads, and life support makeup air for working personnel.
Due to the research quality requirements for these rooms,
All of the environmental rooms measured 9-ft. 6-in. overall
height while maintaining an internal user height of 7-ft. 6-in.
above the finished floor to the underneath side of the 18-in.
deep conditioning ceiling plenums. The ceiling plenums house
much of the conditioning equipment required for maintaining
the temperature and humidity performance levels desired.
They also house sealed fluorescent light fixtures in sufficient
quantities to provide 70 foot candle lighting levels at the work-
ing volume within each room area.
The ceiling plenums were constructed using an anodized
aluminum T-grid system with open egg crate panels and vinyl
faced blank tiles designed for the proper air distribution needed to maintain the desired uniformity levels. The T-grid ceilings allow for easy access to the mechanical equipment located
within the plenum space.
The drosophila room, which measures approximately 6-ft.
by 9-ft., also uses a return air wall plenum for taking air from
the floor area and bringing it to the ceiling plenum area for
proper temperature and humidity control. The need for the
return air wall is based on the small relative size of the room
and its higher operation temperature and humidity range.
The return air wall plenum and the ceiling plenum associated
with the drosophila room are protected with stainless steel
screening to separate the flies from coming in contact with the
conditioning mechanical equipment. The mechanical systems
associated with the environmental rooms utilize a three-pipe,
hot gas bypass, direct expansion, and a water cooled refrig-
An individual control panel (shown here at the entry to a cold room)
houses an independent high/low temperature alarm system, a dry alarm
contact for connection to the BMS system, and a seven-day circular temperature chart recorder. (Image: Suffolk Construction; Peter Vanderwarker)