Costello Construction, a Maryland-based firm providing general construction services to public and private sector clients, celebrated a pinnacle of achievement as the 150-year-old National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM) re-opened in its new home in Silver Spring, Md. Designed and constructed from the ground up, the 20,000 square-foot, $12 million LEED-Silver museum is one of the first blast resistant tilt-up concrete buildings in the U.S.

According to David Costello, president of Costello Construction, this project pushed his team to devise insightful solutions to several unusual construction challenges. The complex design of the building, which incorporated a “slice” through the gallery to imitate the slice of a surgeon’s scalpel, called for narrow bands of glass dissecting the single-story building both horizontally and vertically. This design element presented considerable structural challenges requiring Costello to employ a pioneering combination of cast-in-place, conventional tilt-up concrete walls, tilt-up spandrel panels, and structural steel.

The project

Costello Construction was awarded the design-build contract for the museum in late 2009 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on behalf of the property owner, the U.S. Department of Defense. Costello was responsible for the excavation, site/building concrete, setting of tilt-up and hung concrete spandrel panels, site utilities, building layout/survey, and some carpentry.

“There were really no unforeseen conditions on this project, as we knew the obstacles going into it,” says Costello. He adds that there was a significant degree of difficulty in the overall design and construction. This project pushed Costello Construction to devise insightful and innovative solutions to several unusual construction challenges.

In addition to the project’s structural challenges, the museum’s security-sensitive location—just outside the gates of Fort Detrick’s Forest Glen Annex—required compliance with Anti-Terrorism Force Protection (ATFP) building safeguards, and the museum’s climate-sensitive collection of irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind artifacts, required a highly sophisticated HVAC system designed for climate and vapor control.

Two different levels of ATFP were required within the same building, making the design and construction of the facility extraordinarily complicated. Also, the structure of the walls that separated the public area from the administrative areas was required to be secure and blast resistant.

To meet the requirements, Costello increased reinforcing steel in the concrete panels by 30% and panel-to-panel connections were made more rigid. Steel connections to the loadbearing panels along the column line that separated the public areas from the administrative areas were substantially increased and a concrete beam had to be created within a tilt-up panel to allow for a more rigid connection of the curtain wall system to the building from along the same column line. Also, steel sizes were increased.

“The NMHM was the toughest project that I have been associated with in my 36 years with the Department of Defense,” says Jay Hundley, resident engineer. “Costello Construction overcame overwhelming circumstances that were not of their doing and successfully completed this flagship project in record time.”

The finish line

The project was completed on August 5, 2011 and in May 2012, the NMHM held a special grand opening event for the public, where it debut new exhibitions focusing on military medicine, anatomy, and pathology, and featured artifacts and specimens from the museum’s historic landmark collection.

“We are thrilled to have been a part of such a sophisticated and high-profile project,” says Costello. “While the slice through the gallery presented unique structural challenges for our team, we did not want to compromise Massachusetts-based Kling Stubbin’s architectural vision of the original design. Instead, we came up with innovative and cost-effective ways of constructing the building so that the museum will continue to draw in and impress visitors for years to come.”

Tilt-up, the most innovative aspect of the construction in this project, was fast, efficient, and effectively solved the blast requirements. The building was designed, permitted, and constructed on time and within budget—a cornerstone of the Costello corporate standard.