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How Invitae Turned a Former Mall into a State-of-the-Art Laboratory & Production Center

How Invitae Turned a Former Mall into a State-of-the-Art Laboratory & Production Center

From Demo to Turnover in Eight Months

Key Takeaways

  • This fast-track design-build project was delivered within eight months from demo to delivery and within the original budget amid supply chain issues, material escalation, and labor shortages.
  • The 125,000-SF laboratory and production facility with office space was designed with maximum flexibility in mind, is sustainable, and has room for growth.
  • This mall-to-lab transformation project won ENR Southeast’s 2022 Best Project, Restoration/Renovation award.
  • For most of the project, 180+ people worked on-site per day, six days a week, clocking 196,520 hours and zero safety incidents. The project also won ENR Southeast’s Best Project, Excellence in Safety award.

Company Overview

Invitae Corporation is a leading medical genetics company whose mission is to bring comprehensive genetic information into mainstream medicine to improve healthcare for billions of people through higher quality, faster turnaround time, and lower prices.

Invitae’s medical-grade genetic testing analyzes genes on a direct-to-consumer basis to find changes that could potentially lead to disease. Their testing seeks to provide advanced medical information to proactively guide individuals regarding general lifestyle decisions, pregnancy planning, hereditary risks, and more. In addition, Invitae partners with biopharma researchers and assists physicians with genomic test results for patients to determine personalized treatments for various diseases.

The former Morrisville Mall food court before becoming Invitae’s flex space storage area and warehouse.

Former mall food court transitioned into flex space storage area/warehouse looking toward walk-in coolers and freezers.

Challenge

San Francisco-based Invitae was seeking to expand its genetic testing capabilities in response to heightened demand in the global market. Eventually, they determined they wanted to establish a foothold on the East Coast and chose to break ground in North Carolina’s Research Triangle area. As they began thinking about potential construction projects, leaders also knew they would need to build in the necessary flexibility to rapidly reconfigure lab work areas and associated equipment to adapt to real-time process changes if needed.

The cutting-edge organization selected a premier location — a highly visible existing facility near the Raleigh-Durham International Airport that was once the popular Morrisville Outlet Mall — with the vision of transforming the former space into an advanced, sustainable laboratory and office facility.

Invitae was also intent on producing a high-performance facility that conserved existing resources, minimized lifecycle operational costs, and provided a comfortable, engaging environment for its occupants.

Primary Project Objectives

Speed to Market calendar Icon

Speed to Market

Flexibility

Building sustainability icon

Sustainability

Capacity

Approach and Solutions

Invitae selected 35 North as the design-builder for the first phase of the project, a 125,000-square-foot major renovation and tenant improvement project. 35 North’s turnkey solution for integrated project delivery uses a proven framework to minimize risk for owners, save owners time, and streamline the construction process with one point of contact, one contract, and one price. By providing end-to-end services from programming to commissioning, and managing disparate stakeholders and contractors, the resulting seamless coordination helped to reduce cost, eliminate complexity, maximize efficiency, and avoid unnecessary disputes.

The project began with discussions involving all key stakeholders in San Francisco. 35 North leveraged its relationships in the life sciences sector in Research Triangle Park (RTP) to select prime design and construction firms, specialty subcontractors, and preferred vendors best suited for this type of project. During the development of the design, schedule, and budget, we also identified cost-saving strategies and value engineering alternatives to meet the owner’s vision. This enabled us to move from demo to turnover in just eight (8) months, meeting Invitae’s quick-to-market aspirations.

In addition to an overarching focus on maximum flexibility, other major callouts from the project approach are listed below:

1

Focus on Safety
In addition to standard pre-mobilization tasks, subcontractor pre-screens, site safety procedure manuals, and drug screen verifications, each subcontractor was required to complete a Task Hazard Analysis (THA) for every task each day that included a detailed description of their planned work. Safety Observations (SOs) were also performed throughout each day by project and subcontractor team members to identify at-risk behaviors that needed correction. Additionally, the project team established mandatory protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, ending the project with zero reported cases.

2

Innovative Thinking
Being built so close to the airport made using cranes to install the facility’s required nine rooftop HVAC units challenging. The team anticipated the lengthy, circuitous approval process for using cranes would delay schedules and end up costing more. Thus, project leaders concocted a plan to airlift the machinery by helicopter, a more efficient and less expensive option than other more traditional methods.

3

Modern Technology
During construction, our team applied BIM technologies to optimize MEP coordination and maximize prefabrication opportunities for key materials, such as ductwork, cable trays, and bus ducts.

4

Conflict Mitigation and Resolution
Clash detection/coordination reports were run using modeling, and results were seamlessly coordinated with subcontractors to reduce or eliminate conflicts, thereby increasing efficiency in the field. Our integrated design-build team was also able to immediately develop resolutions for any field issues that did occur and resolve them within hours rather than days due to the implementation of effective communication protocols and processes.

5

Attention to Detail
The lean design and expert installation of lab utilities – generators, outdoor air systems, overhead electrical, and mechanical ductwork – were paramount as these systems would remain exposed and visible. The team ensured that all interior installations were extremely clean, with strong lines of symmetry, and streamlined to make any future design changes as easy as possible.

6

Quality Assurance
During construction, the design-build leadership team actively monitored all aspects of the project through a project-specific Quality Assurance + Control (QA/QC) program. Quality concerns were tracked and resolved as they were identified.

7

Sustainability
Seeking LEED certification, numerous sustainable initiatives were employed to minimize the impact of the facility’s renovation on its surrounding community and environment. Significant daylighting scope details of the former facility were protected, and skylights were added, to continue to allow natural light into the future facility while also providing its future workers with scenic views of the surrounding landscape. Much of the building’s existing concrete flooring was also repurposed — a sustainable and unique solution for the facility.

Invitae rooftop helicopter HVAC delivery with rigging team ready - photo

Due to the building’s proximity to the airport, the use of cranes to lift the rooftop HVAC units into place was challenging. So, the team opted for a helicopter for an economical, efficient placement.

Results

Invitae’s first East Coast laboratory and production facility includes heavy overhead mechanical support, extensive cold storage equipment reaching temperatures of -110° F, million-dollar generators ensuring uninterruptible power supply, sweeping process corridors with high-speed roll-ups, shipping/receiving areas, open offices, conference or huddle rooms, training areas, administrative support, building core spaces, and amenities including a coffee bar, café, gym, and interior and exterior courtyards.

The facility was designed and constructed with ultimate flexibility as a guiding principle. Featuring power bus ducts installed on a modular grid layout, process and analytical equipment can easily be reconfigured to rapidly adapt to advancing science-based process and workflow changes, while also allowing for smooth future expansion efforts with speed.

By incorporating both a variable refrigerant flow HVAC system and compressed dry air (CDA) package, the design further lessens the need for infrastructure modifications as Invitae’s program naturally evolves and reconfigures over time. In addition to maximum workspace flexibility, the introduction of new vision glass and additional skylights contribute to the qualitative characteristics of the design, providing employees an energetic space that is unrecognizable as a former retail mall.

Project Overview

Total Project Value

  • $42 million

Total Project Size

  • 125,000 SF

35 North Role

Market Segments

  • Life sciences
  • Genetic testing
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) / New Generation Sequencing (NGS) lab
  • Research & development

This overall major renovation and tenant improvement project also incorporates an existing facility component, The Stitch, which will function as the social hub for the facility. The Stitch will provide physical connections between various functions and visual connectivity between program components. It is a multi-programmed space that will be used for a variety of functions with specific zones to accommodate large-scale events and presentations, as well as smaller-scale activities.

Invitae’s award-winning facility will provide testing for gene panels and single-gene testing for a broad range of clinical needs including hereditary cancer, cardiology, neurology, pediatric genetics, metabolic disorders, immunology, and hematology.

35 North and their entire project team did an excellent job. Your professionalism, transparency, tenacity, and creativity have been impressive. Your commitment to safety on such a fast-moving project was honorable. Well done, and I hope to see you all again soon.

— Philip Clay, VP Global Supply & Corporate Real Estate

Achieve Your Goals

Are you thinking about renovating, expanding, or building a new life science facility in North Carolina? 35 North welcomes the opportunity to help you achieve your goals and aspirations. To discuss your unique needs and determine how 35 North can help, contact us at info@35n.com.

As a top construction project management firm, our team at 35 North has a diverse mix of program, project, and construction managers, cost estimators, and commissioning and operational readiness professionals. Each team member has been recruited and hand-selected because of their talent and experience in the primary sectors we serve, such as biotechnology, AgTech, and pharmaceutical consulting

Exterior gathering place with bocce ball court, looking toward interior corridor connecting north and south laboratories

Invitae's open office work area with conference rooms - photo

Open-office work area with huddle and conference rooms along the left perimeter.

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