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Glass Bottle Factory Finds New Life as Biotech Space

The lab facility helps grow the thriving biotech community in Southeastern Massachusetts

MaryBeth DiDonna

The Mansfield Bio-Incubator in Mansfield, MA, was completed in February 2022. At a cost of $4 million, the facility measures 26,000 sq. ft. in total, with 16,000 sq. ft. of Phase II buildout. CannonDesign served as architect on the project, while NV5 provided engineering services and Timberline Construction did the buildout. 

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Lab facility in the Mansfield Bio-Incubator
Copyright © 2022 Mansfield Bio-Incubator, Inc. All rights reserved

Lab Manager spoke to Alex Margulis, Chief Operating Officer at Mansfield Bio-Incubator, about this facility’s interesting history and its outlook for the future. 

Q: What was the need for this facility? Is it replacing an outdated existing facility or accommodating new research/ a new program? 

A: Mansfield Bio-Incubator is located on a 64-acre property formerly built as a glass bottle factory in the 1970s. In the 1980s, the factory closed down and the facility was used as a transportation/warehousing hub. However, the location and the layout of the property is better suited for a biotech due to the proximity to Boston/Cambridge as well as two other major research clusters in New England in Worcester and Providence. Recognizing this, previous property owners generously donated $2 million to build the initial 10,000 square feet facility in 2017. The footprint consists of shared and private laboratory and office space to encourage the collaboration and to nucleate a biotech mini-cluster in Southeastern Massachusetts, to relieve the congestion and high prices in Boston and Cambridge and therefore help sustain the state’s coveted number one spot in the world in biotech. Within two to three years, the demand started to outgrow the physical footprint. 

To continue growing the biotech community in the region, we have partnered with Massachusetts Life Science Center, a state agency dedicated to growing Life Sciences in Massachusetts, and a private foundation, to build a Phase II expansion. The Phase II expansion is an extension of our original footprint built out in 2017. It was built to attract high-quality startups who desire a top-notch BSL-2 space and grow the biotech cluster in Southeastern Massachusetts. Our long-term aim is to create a campus where both earlier-stage and later-stage companies learn from each other. In particular, this is an ideal spot for a late-stage company to build a manufacturing facility.

Q: What kinds of sustainability initiatives have been included in the design plan? Is the facility pursuing LEED certification or something similar? 

A: The key elements in the design plan were high-quality insulation and the option to vary the air exchange rate within an individual suite (private suites of 325, 675, and 2,700 square feet). Finally, 50 percent of the electricity is generated from the solar farm nearby. We would consider pursuing a LEED certification.

Q: Is there anything particularly unique or groundbreaking about your facility or the design plan?

A: We sought to combine the highest quality standard for the laboratory while at the same time providing an open space that inspires collaboration and flexibility to adapt to each start-up’s ever-changing individual needs. With a 21st century dubbed as a biotech era, more and more applications of biotechnology will require strict engineering controls to ensure safe environment and eliminate any cross-contamination between the different enclosed (private) spaces. A robust air exchange within a shared space is also critical to minimize the chance of cross-contamination. The design of the facility aims to address this critical aspect of R&D.

Q: What sorts of challenges did you encounter during the design/build process, and how did you overcome them? 

A: From construction during COVID, to disruptions in the supply chain, to the transition in ownership and the need to overcome existing building restrictions and limitations, we faced several obstacles in the process of turning this dream into a reality. We overcame these challenges through grit, perseverance, and the collective help from our architects, engineering design, and construction firms.

Q: If a similar facility or program were to look at your lab for inspiration, what do you think they will take away as an example of what they should also implement in their own lab?

A: One piece of advice I’d share: You should seek to ensure the infrastructure is as flexible as possible with minimal fixed casework and ample room to add more electrical power and HVAC capabilities, as each startup has unique needs and even a later stage company’s priorities shift rapidly. Most importantly, the HVAC design must ensure no cross-contamination since very often the R&D work requires the use of air-borne pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, or parasites.