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Project Profile: Georgia Southern Center for Engineering and Research

The Georgia Southern Center for Engineering and Research is the visible center for all engineering programs on campus

MaryBeth DiDonna
The Georgia Southern Center for Engineering and Research (CEaR) at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, GA.
smithgroup

The Georgia Southern Center for Engineering and Research (CEaR) is a 140,000 gsf facility at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, GA, built at a cost of $46 million and completed in January 2021. 

The project team consisted of SmithGroup (design architect, programming, design engineering, fire and life safety engineering, interior design, lab planning and design, sustainability), SSOE (formerly Stevens and Wilkinson; architect of record, structural engineering, design collaboration, exterior detailing, construction administration), Dulohery Weeks Engineers Inc (MEP), Thomas and Hutton (civil engineering and landscape architecture), BDR Partners (program manager), and JE Dunn (construction manager). 

Lab Manager speaks with SmithGroup’s Doug Dahlkemper, AIA, LEED AP, lead designer-design principal higher education; and Christopher Vanneste, lab planner, about the CEaR.

Q: How did the plan for this building start? What kinds of programs is it housing?

A: The new Georgia Southern Center for Engineering and Research is the locus for engineering excellence and innovation in southeast Georgia. The building is designed to facilitate academic and institutional partnerships throughout the region and produce the next generation of highly trained engineers prepared for 21st century professions. 

The new 140,000 sf multi-story building is the visible center for all engineering programs on campus and is designed to create synergy and promote collaboration between the various disciplines that were previously housed in multiple locations. The new building contains state-of-the-art laboratories for mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, robotics, and manufacturing engineering, among others. This facility consolidates and enhances the other engineering resources on campus to train future engineers on the latest technology and enable the school to be a key part of the economic transformation of the region.

This facility consolidates and enhances the other engineering resources on campus to train future engineers on the latest technology and enable the school to be a key part of the economic transformation of the region.
smithgroup

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

A: The project adheres to the Georgia Peach Green Building Rating System, which recognizes and rates projects for energy efficiency and sustainable standards. At the core of the sustainable strategies is a building that has longevity, extremely efficient space use, responds to solar orientation, and an efficient building system arrangement for ease of access service and maintenance. The building’s solar shading is accomplished through parametric modelling. This allowed the design team to optimize natural daylighting and views on the west and south sides of the building, while minimizing solar heat gain. The systems are exposed and emphasized, to engage with the curriculum, along with a solar and wind environmental lab on the roof for experimentation with energy generation. 

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

A: The facility extends the university’s research capabilities and partnerships as well as opportunities for faculty to engage students in hands-on research and inspire innovative engineering process. Applied research spaces with a strong focus on manufacturing engineering, civil engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and mechanical engineering are all housed in the three-story building. Workspaces can be easily reconfigured for various uses, projects, and applications, while also providing students with access to industry-grade equipment and expanded opportunities for undergraduate research. 

The heart of the building contains a 350-foot-long high-bay space with the latest technology with a robust infrastructure. A portion of the primary high-bay space is reserved for academic/private research to engage the broader manufacturing community. Other program areas in the building include medium- and low-bay research labs, a cleanroom, graduate suites, faculty and administrative offices, classrooms, and event space for industry partners. The proximity of research labs and the academic and administrative areas promotes interaction between the faculty, and students while providing space for industry partners. The research modules are designed for maximum flexibility so they can serve as teaching laboratories and be adapted to new projects.

The building is designed with adaptable laboratories to meet changing technologies and processes throughout the life of the building. The organizational model for CEaR is truly interdisciplinary, with the labs and adjacencies reflecting the increasingly dissolving boundaries between science disciplines once considered unrelated.

The building houses more than 30 labs, including and one of southeast Georgia’s only Class 3 cleanrooms for research and manufacturing processes that require high levels of environmental filtration. Other specialty labs include advanced additive manufacturing spaces, robotics and automation, CNC, instrumentation and controls, renewable energy lab, metal and non-metal 3D printing, and joining and welding labs.

Within the facility there are also multi-disciplinary research labs (MURS) that provide flexible research space for student-centered projects. The MURS labs deliver minimal fixed laboratory solutions, allowing for maximum flexibility over the life of the laboratories. The new CEaR facility houses a multipurpose manufacturing clean laboratory, student support spaces centered on project fabrication, welding and joining, automation and material characterization. The new building also houses an additive manufacturing lab, which enables students to work with powdered metals in their research. 

Applied research spaces with a strong focus on manufacturing engineering, civil engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and mechanical engineering are all housed in the three-story building. 
smithgroup

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

A: The need for the building to house multiple programs and processes created an organizational and planning challenge, and so the design process centered around creating functional relationships between various departments within the building. Together with the client and users, the design team developed a working strategy to define the optimal programming and layout relationships for each program, and between departments. That perfect diagram became the schema for the underlying organization of the facility and helped organize the various processes taking place in the facility. The additive manufacturing process for example has a sequence of material delivery, preparation, production, and finishing that required interaction with multiple labs to fulfill the total research cycle and included multiple disciplines.

Planning for an industry-grade additive manufacturing metals lab added complexity. Safety and explosion requirements dictated that the lab have a structural bay to handle blast, appropriate clearances, ventilation, grounding, and electrical safety requirements. Laboratories working with combustible metal particulates can provide design challenges but provide great opportunities for expanding the levels and scope of research.

Q: How has the COVID crisis impacted the design/build of this facility?

A: The facility was designed, planned and under construction before COVID occurred, but it was not until the construction phase that the real impact of the pandemic was felt. Issues arose with shipping and delivery of materials, and on-site work schedules and contractor sequencing were all heavily impacted. The need to keep people safe, while continuing construction, proved to be a considerable challenge for the contractor. Design team and contractor meetings took place via Zoom for a period relying on technology to stand in for face-to-face meetings and reviews until the site could be controlled enough for access.

The building is designed with adaptable laboratories to meet changing technologies and processes throughout the life of the building. 
smithgroup

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

A: The CeAR has several specialty laboratory spaces; the large uninterrupted spans of the high-bay labs provide great opportunity for expanding instruction and research, while the additive manufacturing labs provide advanced-level opportunities for students to explore specialized research. One of the many goals of the CeAR is to provide highly flexible, highly specialized laboratories that can be modified as the focus of research and instruction changes and in turn, attract regional industry partners.