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The big move

Relocating 91 laboratories, a magnetic resonance center and the medical school’s teaching facilities across Congress Avenue is like putting together the biggest 3D puzzle ever.

The laboratory of Jeffrey R. Bender, M.D., HS ’83, stretches east along the top floor of the Boyer Center for Molecular Medicine on College Street and toward the New Haven Green. Here Bender, a professor of cardiovascular medicine and immunobiology, directs a program investigating how inflammatory events in blood vessels cause atherosclerosis. It is the kind of work that could one day lead to new ways of treating or preventing stroke, heart attack and the rejection of transplanted organs.

Over the decade that his laboratory has occupied its Boyer Center space, it has filled up to bursting with the specialized tools and materials of molecular biology. Among them is a supply of costly reagents in Revcos, special deep freezers that hum along at minus-80 degrees Celsius. The laboratory also maintains a supply of radioactive isotopes and uses closet-sized biosafety cabinets for working with hazardous and sterile materials. Then there are five refrigerator-sized CO2 incubators precisely calibrated to keep the millions of cells floating in petri dishes within them alive. The vital core of the laboratory, those cells have been isolated from normal and diseased humans and mice. Many of the cells have been genetically manipulated to study the biological mechanisms that underlie atherosclerosis. The cells represent a lifetime of work. “It would be devastating,” said Bender, “if we lost them.”

At some point this winter, a team of movers will pack nearly every single item in Bender’s laboratory—the contents of 700 shelves and drawers and larger discrete items according to the mover’s count—into 2,450 cartons and put them on dollies for easy transport. The laboratory staff will transfer the contents of the freezers and incubators into transport coolers designed for the task while a team from the Office of Environmental Health and Safety decontaminates, wraps and seals the laboratory’s equipment. Then the movers will load some of the material into trucks. What does not get shuttled by truck will be pushed, dolly by dolly, along a carefully mapped, 3,100-foot-long route through five separate medical center buildings and across a new pedestrian skybridge into the north wing of the new Congress Avenue Building. The movers will pass through the north wing and cross another bridge over the new building’s lobby into the south wing. Eventually they will arrive by elevator on the fourth floor and head down the hall to what is now pristine, empty laboratory space.

Once there, every item will be unpacked and put in its designated spot. The biosafety cabinets, freezers and incubators will be checked for contamination and then plugged in, and their environments will be tested and recalibrated as necessary. All of the frozen reagents, living cells and radioactive isotopes will be returned to their storage units. If everything goes according to plan, 48 hours after the move begins Bender’s laboratory will be up and running in its new home.

Now, multiply that scenario by 91. That is how many principal investigators, scattered throughout the medical school, will be moving into the new building over the course of 48 consecutive days starting in mid-winter. In total, the movers will pack up more than 200,000 individually tagged pieces of equipment, shelf- and drawer-loads and other items from 363 laboratory rooms in 38 separate locations around the medical center. All of it should arrive at precisely pinpointed locations in 180 rooms in the new space. With a schedule planned to within 15-minute intervals, from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. six days a week (Sundays are reserved for any problems that arise), effectively one quarter of the medical school’s research laboratories will be packed, hauled, pushed and trucked to new quarters in the new building. “It is an enormous, three-dimensional puzzle,” said Caroline Freeman Tunis, president of Freeman Enterprises, a New York City-based relocation management consulting firm planning the move. “A move of this type puts a faculty member’s life’s work at risk. We have to work for perfection.” Perfection is a tall order. Nothing in Yale’s history—and little in the history of any medical center—compares to the scale and complexity of the move.

“A remarkable opportunity”

“We’re all a bit nervous, a little intimidated by the logistics of moving to a new place,” said Carolyn W. Slayman, Ph.D., Sterling Professor of Genetics and deputy dean for academic and scientific affairs. “But people understand it’s a remarkable opportunity. Everyone who tours it is excited.”

The excitement is for a building with the complex mission of incorporating, enhancing and expanding the central research and teaching missions of the medical school. Slayman and faculty colleague Arthur E. Broadus, M.D., Ph.D., chaired the committee that planned the building. Designed by famed Philadelphia architect and former Yale School of Architecture faculty member Robert Venturi and the Boston firm Payette Associates, the tripartite building is composed of two block-long wings skewed at slight angles and meeting in a large lobby facing the corner of Congress Avenue and Cedar Street. A narrow central courtyard stretches back from the lobby to Howard Avenue (See A Building for the 22nd Century). The football-field-and-a-half-long complex stretches from Cedar Street to Howard Avenue and is squeezed into a short block between Congress Avenue and Gilbert Street, occupying the site of the former nursing dormitory at 350 Congress Avenue and several smaller buildings. Already the Congress Avenue and Cedar Street corner has formed a new center of gravity for the campus.

That shift reflects a real change for the medical school. Many important activities will move to the new building. The six-story south wing will house some 700 researchers, while the three-story north wing will contain six teaching laboratories in anatomy and histology for the 136 first-year medical and physician associate students, along with a 152-seat auditorium and six seminar rooms. Space beneath the lobby and courtyard houses new core research facilities serving the entire university. These include the Animal Resources Center, with facilities for production of transgenic and knockout mice and vivarium space for 74,000 rodents, and the Magnetic Resonance Research Center (MRRC), eventually to house nine magnets for imaging studies of humans, animals and cells.

Just as important as the expanded and more modern research and teaching space, the new building brings together previously far-flung scientists to encourage collaborations among different disciplines. It will be home to nine distinct research programs, two in basic science and seven in disease areas (See Of Mice and Magnets). The basic science programs were selected to complement the clinical programs and to encourage research translating basic science discoveries into medical advances. “The building,” said Slayman, “is mapped out so that basic researchers are next door to clinical researchers. There will be hallway conversations, people going in and out of each other’s labs, sharing equipment, borrowing reagents. There will be an upsurge in communications that we expect will speed discovery.”

The new building will also allow clinical research to grow. Bender will direct a new Program in Vascular Disease and Cardiology. Investigators now scattered in laboratories in four different buildings will share a large common laboratory area. Sitting in his present Boyer Center laboratory, which opened just over a decade ago, Bender said, “I am currently in what is considered premier research space at Yale, with outstanding colleagues. I don’t need better, but the opportunity to bring together a group of investigators focused on cardiovascular disease is great. The daily interaction will be a huge advantage for everyone.” And, as space opens up in existing buildings after the move, other fruitful juxtapositions are being created in what is known around campus as the “backfill” process.

Seven million pounds of steel

Magnetic resonance imaging of biological activity has become a front-line research method. Yale has pioneered work using the imaging technology to study diabetes and psychiatric and neurological disorders in children and adults. The Congress Avenue Building will house a greatly expanded MRRC serving the entire campus. Six of the multi-ton magnets now housed beneath Fitkin Memorial Pavilion will be rolled, craned and pullied to the new center, which sits beneath the new building’s courtyard. Three new imaging systems will be installed as well, including a 23-ton, 4-tesla human magnet, which arrived late one night last September from Germany, to great fanfare and fears for its safe passage over the last few, and most treacherous, feet to its new home.

Along with a rigging crew, security guards, the construction manager, a New Haven police officer and a crowd of curious, late-night onlookers, about 15 engineers and scientists from the lab and their spouses were on hand as the delicate magnet and its housing were hoisted off a flatbed truck by a seven-story crane and lifted over 50 feet into the air to clear electrical and telephone wires. After it was successfully lowered into the loading dock at midnight, those on hand toasted it with champagne. Over the next four hours, riggers inched the magnet down a 30-foot corridor and into its room in the MRRC. It had to be positioned in the room with an accuracy of better than 10 millimeters, or it could not be successfully used, according to Douglas L. Rothman, Ph.D., director of the MRRC and an associate professor of diagnostic radiology. “They accomplished this feat,” he said, recalling the building of the ancient Egyptian pyramids, “using a panoply of wedges, ramps, skates, blocks and tackles, ropes and levers that would have made a Pharaoh proud.” (Plans call for the addition of a state-of-the-art, 11.7-tesla animal magnet and, funding permitting, a 7-tesla human magnet.)

The magnet’s destination was an iron and copper-lined room specially constructed for the purpose. Much of the design work was done by Terry Nixon, director of facilities at the MRRC. According to Nixon, even the slightest radio frequency in the environment creates background noise that washes out the signals picked up by the ultra-high-sensitivity imaging magnets. Containing the magnetic field—80,000 times stronger than the earth’s—required building the MRRC rooms out of 11-inch-thick steel plates. Two million of the 7 million total pounds of steel in the new building are found in the MRRC’s research floor. (The floor above brings together faculty members currently housed in disparate locations around campus.)

Reflecting the growing demand for imaging studies, new faculty are being recruited to the recently formed Section of Bioimaging Sciences, which united imaging research faculty within the Department of Diagnostic Radiology. The present yearlong waiting list for magnet time should all but disappear. The new magnets will also greatly enhance what those experiments can “see,” offering as much as a 16-fold increase in image resolution. “We’ll be able to move from imaging systems down to imaging actual biological processes,” said Rothman. “For instance, as opposed to saying a region of the brain is not functioning properly in neural imaging studies, we could say which specific neuronal circuit or neurochemical pathway within that region is not functioning.”

A large space for small groups

During the past two years, the faculty has moved to structure the curriculum increasingly around small-group learning and use of technology. “We’ve cut out 25 percent of the time in the classroom in the past two years,” said Chase. “Students learn much faster, and small groups help students become independent thinkers. However, the lack of conference rooms with computer facilities has made it hard to switch.” The new facilities should speed the transition.

Chase believes that in the new building “the curriculum will be much more richly textured. We’ll move students along more quickly in doing the same old activity of sitting in the room with the professor.” William B. Stewart, Ph.D., chief of the Section of Anatomy and Experimental Surgery, believes that access to computers will greatly enhance students’ experiences in gross anatomy. Computers will be mounted above each dissection table. Teaching spaces will also have large screens and projectors as well as Internet connections at every work space. “Anatomy and the computer are a perfect marriage,” said Stewart. “Students will have the chance to feel the bile duct, look at an X-ray and look up information about it on the Web all at once.”

Moving the current anatomy program over to the new building presents a number of thorny issues. “We have a large number of specimens that we’re scratching our heads about,” said Stewart. “They’re unique and priceless.” Movers face the challenge of bringing them through the halls while ensuring minimal disruption of normal activity. Stewart is confident that “nearly everything will be able to go.”

Making sure that Stewart is correct is the responsibility of Freeman Enterprises, which has hired a moving firm experienced in handling complex hospital and laboratory moves. Tunis’ colleague Shellie Peck has been working on-site at Yale since January 2002 to inventory the contents of all the facilities to be moved and to plan the move sequence. She and the staff of the Office of Environmental Health and Safety have tagged every item according to a numerical and color coding system that indicates the type of handling it requires and the exact time and pathway for its move. Each tag also serves as the address to which every piece of equipment goes in the new building. “We have databases within databases that keep track of each item,” said Tunis. “We all identify a move with moving a household, but a lab move is very different. If something arrives at the wrong place, it can extinguish a lifetime of work.”

Inventorying contents was not the only job. Faculty members needed to be reassured that their laboratory property would be handled with appropriate care and understanding. “P.I.s [principal investigators] are possessive and rightfully so,” said Reyhan T. Larimer, AIA, the Congress Avenue Building project manager in the School of Medicine’s Project Management and Construction office. “You have to get their trust first.” Larimer has been working closely with Tunis, Peck and their 10-member team in preparing the new building for the move. The building was designed with generic laboratory space which will then be customized for the needs of the individual investigators as they move in. Everything in the Freeman Enterprises’ inventory had to be matched up with the new space into which each laboratory will move to make sure that all equipment would fit and have the proper plumbing, power, communications and air-handling systems available. Should a freezer or incubator arrive at a site that could not handle its needs, research could be interrupted, or worse.

Across the street and 1,840 miles away

In some cases, the most direct route is not available because the hallways are used by medical center patients. Moreover, many items that might be moved more efficiently by truck cannot leave the interior of the medical school because of safety and health regulations. These include a variety of hazardous materials such as radioactive isotopes, contaminated equipment and so-called “select agents,” biological materials such as certain highly toxic bacteria and infectious viruses strictly controlled by the federal government. Robert C. Klein, associate director of the Office of Environmental Health and Safety, has worked closely with faculty, Larimer and Freeman Enterprises to prepare for the move. He said, “You need to make sure the wrong things don’t get moved and the right things aren’t moved in the wrong way.” He points out that the medical school routinely moves hazardous materials. “The hazard doesn’t change [with a project this size],” he said, “just the volume.” Most hazardous items will either be placed in special sealed carts designed to capture any inadvertent spill or leakage or be carried personally by Klein and his staff or laboratory staff.

Shortly before the movers arrive in Bender’s laboratory, Klein and his staff will have decontaminated and sealed all the equipment that previously contained hazardous materials. The movers will move quickly through the laboratory, packing tagged items into cartons. Bender is confident about the move. “I’m not overwhelmed by the logistics,” he said. “They will be surmountable with good organization.” If all goes according to plan, his laboratory’s contents will arrive at their new destination on schedule and intact. Despite the move’s complexity, he anticipates losing no more than two days’ research productivity. “Moves are always unsettling,” he said, “but it’s definitely worth it.” Two days after Bender closes the door to his laboratory in the Boyer Center for the last time, he plans to walk into his new laboratory and start up exactly where he left off, alongside a host of new neighbors and colleagues. YM