GSU Parker H. Petit Science Center
Research Laboratory — Atlanta, GA

GSU Parker H. Petit Science Center

When it comes to finding new treatments for critical illnesses or stopping the spread of deadly infectious diseases across the globe, time is of the essence. Equally imperative is acquiring and training new talent to lead these important discoveries and implement them within our communities. This sense of urgency and importance was the driving force behind the design and construction team responsible for carrying out Georgia State University’s forward-thinking vision for the new Parker H. Petit Science Center.

Built to bring additional research, educational and economic opportunities to Atlanta, the new 350,000-square-foot science center increases space at the nationally renowned research institution and consolidates academic and research facilities from its diverse science program under one roof. Situated in the heart of downtown Atlanta, the 10-story facility provides collaborative learning and research space for GSU’s College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Health and Human Sciences, bringing together 6,000 students and faculty involved in the university’s biology, chemistry, nursing, nutrition, physical and respiratory therapies programs. The center is also home to the Neuroscience Institute and the Institute of Public Health.  

Accommodating an expanding and changing curriculum, the center features both dry and wet laboratories, including Bio Safety Level (BSL)-2 and 3 labs. It also includes one of the few university-based BSL-4 labs in the country used to investigate deadly viruses. There is a 100-seat auditorium on the first floor, improved research and office space on the fifth through ninth floors, as well as six general and 32 department-specific teaching labs and classrooms.

One of the facility’s most distinguishing attributes is its expansive glass facade, making it an iconic structure in Atlanta, both visually and academically. Two towers on either side of the building’s central lobby house faculty offices. The center’s laboratories were intentionally positioned behind the lobby to encourage interaction among faculty members and students from various departments. Community spaces were also strategically located throughout the building to provide additional gathering areas.

Fast Track
Lost Time Accident Rate

Trade Partners

  • Atkins Global, Engineering Consultant
  • CUH2A, Inc., Architect
  • HDR, Inc., Architect
  • Inglett & Stubbs LLC, Electrical Engineer
  • Jones Lang LaSalle Americas, Inc., Program Manager
  • KSi Structural Engineers
  • Mann Mechanical, Mechanical Engineer
  • PBS&J, Civil Engineer

The Challenge

Constructing new facilities within an older urban environment is a complex undertaking in any city. Atlanta was no exception, offering a series of challenges related to construction equipment placement, material deliveries, and public safety due to high levels of road and pedestrian traffic combined with student and campus activities.

After construction began, McCarthy encountered other adverse site conditions. Subterranean debris was found in numerous locations during site excavation and the soil was deemed unacceptable to build upon.

Because the building was programmed over a six-year period, technology changes and requirements also came into play, requiring flexibility and innovation by the design and construction team. Two such instances included energy code changes and a long-term regional drought which impacted the building’s cooling tower system.

The construction team also faced issues related to the installation of technical equipment and lab systems requiring specific finishes, as well as high-density electrical and HVAC systems. Completion of these areas required precise delivery and installation coordination with equipment manufacturers, the design team and future building occupants.

Many of the departments that now occupy the Petit Science Center had been gathered in multiple buildings and many of those buildings were old with layouts that did not maximize the fostering of research and communication. This new building allowed us to bring faculty, staff, and students together, and we included strategies that would encourage more interaction.

Kimberly Bauer
GSU’s Director of Facilities Design and Construction Services

GSU Parker H. Petit Science Center Construction

Though the project was successful, it wasn’t without challenges. The true sense of satisfaction was due to the collaborative approach to solving those challenges. There was a dynamic connection between all of the parties responsible for the project.

Joseph Jouvenal
Project Director, Southern Region

The How

Preconstruction planning was a critical component of this project as the initial program was considerably over budget. Working with GSU and the design team, McCarthy developed inventive solutions during buy-out and contingency that reduced the project cost by $7 million while retaining the program’s key elements.

Performing construction activities in a high traffic downtown area mere blocks from the State Capitol brought further challenges, including pedestrian safety, urban traffic control, construction material deliveries, and storage and security issues. Effective communication and coordination with multiple agencies proved essential to minimize disruption to the neighboring hospital and transit facility. Further addressing these challenges, the team provided traffic control, security-grade perimeter fencing, continuous gate access supervision, 24/7 security personnel and live web-camera surveillance.

Right after construction began, subterranean debris was found within the entire building footprint requiring soil removal, replacement and recompacting. In addition, high moisture content in the original foundation’s soil compromised its load-bearing capacity. The contract in place with GSU ordered each of these soil conditions to be addressed separately, something that could have significantly delayed construction. Further leveraging the team’s collaborative approach, McCarthy teamed with the university to address the issues, and together they developed a rare lump sum change order that enabled the project to stay on schedule.

Another strategy that expedited construction was the use of BIM (Building Information Modeling) software. During preconstruction, McCarthy employed BIM technology to create computer-generated virtual 3D mock-ups of the building’s interior spaces. These virtual models gave the faculty, staff, and professors a real-life view of their classroom and office space, allowing them to request modifications before finishes were installed. Approximately $15,000 in changes were made during this process, which would have cost exponentially more or been impossible to address if discovered while work was underway.

McCarthy also used BIM to coordinate the building systems around the structure’s architecture and structural aspects, resolving over 5,000 conflicts before construction began. One of the team’s greatest victories was recognizing a conflict in the penthouse between the mechanical equipment and the structure. Early discovery of this issue allowed the team to alter the drawings before any concrete was poured or structural steel was fabricated, saving approximately $150,000.

The lifespan of a building is always extended when properly maintained. The design and construction team worked with GSU to ensure all systems were captured in BIM, providing essential documentation for GSU facilities’ staff to use for future building maintenance and renovations. Realizing significant benefits related to quality, cost, schedule and building life-cycle maintenance, GSU instituted plans to use BIM on future major construction projects.

Completing the GSU project on-time was critical to provide the university with much needed laboratory space. The project plan included phased, early release packages to complete the project sooner than traditional package phasing. The team coordinated closely to achieve the schedule with construction overlapping document development. The coordination efforts facilitated the on-time completion and enabled a late change of integrating 35,000 square feet of offices and wet lab space on the seventh floor.

Science and technology buildings require precise coordination and execution. GSU's Science Center facility is no exception. McCarthy’s advanced use of BIM, dovetailed with our own BIM experience, pushed coordination and communication to a new, higher level. Additionally, McCarthy's on-site technology helped orchestrate the delivery of high performance and high design — the result that GSU was looking for. 

C. Josh Rownd, AIA
Project Director, CUH2A, A Division of HDR

GSU Parker H. Petit Science Center Under Construction

We celebrate years of hard work that got us to this occasion, and we look to the future possibilities of the vitally important education and research that will take place at this fine facility. Let us dedicate this state-of-the-art house of learning, research and technology, designed and built to help us and those who come after us to meet some of our world's greatest challenges in health and in the sciences. 

Mark P. Becker, President
Georgia State University

A lot of companies promise you the moon when they are trying to get your job...all I can say is the moon is shining bright over our new Science Center... McCarthy has delivered!

Robin Morris, Ph.D., Vice President, Research & Regents, Professor of Psychology
Georgia State University

The Outcome

Today, Georgia State is considered one of the nation’s premier urban public research universities, solving global challenges in human health. The new Parker H. Petit Science Center is playing a significant role in helping the university to excel in this important endeavor by not only attracting new students, but also more top-notch scientists and research funding than ever before. Since the science center was built, annual research awards received at Georgia State have reached an all-time high and are continuing to rise. Furthermore, research grants and contracts from industry have grown more than threefold. 

Students and faculty now occupy the facility around the clock with classes taking place from early morning until late evening, and scientific research activities occurring 24/7. With its 27-foot long, 200-million-pixel computer visualization wall, researchers, students, and visitors may view and conceptualize information from large-scale projects that use intensive data involving geographic information systems, public health, computer science, chemistry, biology, library systems, art and other areas.  This includes tracking the hypothetical spread of a disease or biological events; very crucial information to communicate to the public.

Following GSU’s sustainability requirements aimed at improving long-term maintenance and protecting the environment, the facility also boasts eco-friendly features. To alleviate drought concerns, the cooling tower uses a condensate recovery system, saving nearly 3-million gallons of water each year. Furthermore, automated lighting controls were installed in offices and classrooms, and expansive glazing systems not only provide a bright and energizing environment for building occupants, but also maximize daylight in classroom and office spaces, reducing the need for energy-intensive lighting.

Resulting from the innovation, flexibility and collaborative approach by all project stakeholders, the Parker H. Petit Science Center was delivered on time and on budget, while meeting GSU’s program requirements. The cutting-edge facility is now providing functional, interactive and convenient multidisciplinary space for students and faculty alike, successfully enhancing GSU’s national reputation of excellence for innovative scientific research and academics. But even more importantly, the new state-of-the-art facility serves as a training ground for the next generation of healthcare professionals and scientists and is aiding researchers in their quest to find new treatments for cancer, obesity and other health issues affecting our quality of life.


Ben Watkins

Ben Watkins

2727 Paces Ferry Rd SE
Building 2, Suite 1600
Atlanta, GA 30339

Awards and Recognition

ABC logo
2012 Excellence in Construction

Parker H. Petit Science Center
ABC of Georgia

AGC logo
2011 Build Georgia Award

1st Place
Parker H. Petit Science Center
AGC of Georgia

enr southeast logo
2010 Best of Higher Education

Research Building
Parker H. Petit Science Center
SE Construction