Clark and Johns Hopkins transform the Newseum building
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Paul Nassetta says he’s not retiring well.
After ending his career as chief operating officer of Washington, D.C.-based Hoffman & Associates, Nassetta returned to the workforce in 2018 as director of design and construction at Johns Hopkins University.
In his new position, Nassetta was tasked with delivering on a challenging project: transforming the recently closed Newseum just blocks from the U.S. Capitol into a museum. State-of-the-art higher education facilitiesIn addition to the general contractor Clark Construction.
Dedicated last month for the $300 million JHU Bloomberg Center, the 10-story, 350,000-square-foot academic building on Pennsylvania Avenue includes 38 classrooms, a lounge-style library, multimedia study, informal study spaces and a 375-seat theater . And space for a conference center, a banquet hall, a fitness center and a rooftop terrace.
The project team began designing the Bloomberg Center in the spring of 2019 with a strict opening date for the fall 2023 semester.
The fast-paced schedule and unique construction restrictions that prevent any use of the crane will be difficult indeed. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, disrupting the supply chain and skyrocketing material prices.
Fortunately, this did not hinder the project team.
“This is a project that would have taken an additional year to build under normal circumstances,” said Matt Vaughn, executive director of the project at Bethesda, Clark, Maryland. “But given the constraints, we worked with Johns Hopkins University and the design team to create a phased design sequence that allowed us to begin demolition and construction a full year before the overall design was finalized.”
With work beginning in earnest even before architects Ennead, Rockwell Group and SmithGroup finalized designs, Vaughan said Clark and Johns Hopkins underwrote and insured a third of the project’s costs before the coronavirus hit, ultimately partially protecting the job from inflation.
The Newseum – which opened in 2008 – had a huge atrium containing a helicopter and a giant suspended plane, where escalators and platforms guided visitors around the perimeter, displaying aspects of the history of journalism and the development of the media.
This didn’t exactly translate to the university building.
“We had to demolish almost all the floors below the eighth level,” Nassetta said. “In order to do that and keep the building stable, we had to put a million pounds of temporary steel in the interspaces where the new floors wouldn’t go.”
When crews demolished the areas below the eighth floor to replace them, they needed to remove broken materials and bring in temporary support steel for the upper floors. However, due to the complex nature of the design, the building’s roof had to remain intact.
“This means that unlike almost every other complex construction project in the country, this one must be built without the use of a crane that delivers materials from above,” Vaughn said.
Instead, crews had to remove the glass facade facing busy Pennsylvania Avenue in order to move materials in and out and make room for work.
Lack of uniformity
To modernize and expand the building’s elevator bank, the project team built a box around the existing elevators, with concrete subcontractor Miller & Long pouring shotcrete around the reinforced steel to cover the space, Nassetta said. Essentially, the crew built a concrete tube, then demolished the elevator’s interior and moved materials without a crane to build a new elevator space, all while working around tons of temporary steel.
“It was a big challenge,” Nassetta said.
The new performing arts space was built on the site of the original Newseum Theater, which showcased IMAX and 4D experiences — not what Johns Hopkins needed. The team had to remove a post-tensioned main beam and cables, which meant the crew used main hydraulic jacks to raise the building in order to remove and replace the beam and reduce the theater’s capacity from 535 to 400 seats.
The lack of standardization on the project poses the biggest challenge for crews, Vaughn said. On many similar jobs, workers begin to become familiar with the structure and the repetitive rooms or stairs, creating familiarity day in and day out. In the Johns Hopkins project, there was little repetition.
“As a result, when all the craftsmen built the room staircase, they became experts on the conditions that existed on the fifth level in the room staircase, but those conditions would never be repeated again because on the fourth level or third level, the room staircase would do something different,” Vaughn said. “Absolutely.” “This means that our contractors had to be especially prepared to continue building in these unique conditions.”
The number of workers on the project peaked at more than 700 per day, Nassetta said. Initially, the project started six days a week, before obtaining special permits to operate 24/7, which was necessary to deliver the project on time.
Vaughan said the challenging nature of the construction process is exactly what attracted Clark’s team to the project. As for Nassetta, when asked if he would be better off in retirement, he said: “No. I mean I like to stay busy.