Raymond-Pond JV Helps U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Centrifuge Research Laboratory Get Back in Operation

By Matt Allinson, PMP, GGP, Col, USAF (Ret.) | Senior Project Manager | Pond

The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) in Vicksburg, Mississippi is the home to much of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers’ research and development capabilities to support its dual missions to support the Warfighter and to provide and manage much of the Nation’s civil works facilities (think dams, intracoastal and navigable waterways, recreation areas, flood risk mitigation, etc.).

ERDC’s Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory’s (GSL) Centrifuge Research Center focuses on solving structural and geotechnical engineering challenges. One of its premier pieces of lab equipment is its centrifuge. It is by most measures, the most powerful centrifuge in the world. It models some of the same scientific principles seen in a high school chemistry or physics class, but on a much, much bigger scale. ERDC’s centrifuge can hold a scaled-down model of a structure or a cross-section of a flood retaining wall, for example, weighing up to 4,000 pounds in its payload basket and spin it at up to 350 times the force of gravity. The arm that spins the payload basket is approximately 6.5 meters long. What does the ERDC do with such a powerful centrifuge? When the flood walls failed during Hurricane Katrina, the engineers and technicians at GSL were tasked to determine the failure mechanisms that caused New Orleans to flood and then to run a series of tests to determine which flood wall designs being considered for the re-build would help prevent another Katrina-sized flood event in the Crescent City.

The centrifuge and its supporting containment facility and control building were constructed in the early 1990s. The centrifuge itself was designed by a French company. The containment facility is a partially buried round reinforced concrete vessel with 18” thick walls and massive blast doors to prevent debris- caused damage to the surrounding area from models that start to break apart while being subjected to the gravitational loading of the centrifuge. The blast doors allow technicians to access the centrifuge for maintenance and to load and unload models being tested. The control building is where the centrifuge is operated, and the payload is monitored during the testing. Data collection for later analysis is conducted in the control building which also houses the administrative and office spaces for the lab’s employees.

“When the flood walls failed during Hurricane Katrina, the engineers and technicians at GSL were tasked to determine the failure mechanisms…”

The complex has not had any major maintenance or repairs since it was constructed in the early 90s and is need of building envelope repairs, interior renovations, electrical and HVAC repairs, site erosion remediation, upgraded fire protection, telecommunications, monitoring and security systems. Additionally, there is a shortage of storage and model preparation space at the complex, which forces GSL lab technicians to perform these functions in other facilities across the ERDC. One problem with this setup is the models don’t survive travel from the buildup location to the centrifuge very well, which can adversely affect the results of the testing. Furthermore, the centrifuge went off-line a few years ago due to water intrusion into the subterranean electrical and mechanical room caused by degraded site drainage and building maintenance. A heavy rain event shorted out some equipment necessary for the centrifuge to operate. This is where Raymond-Pond JV came into play.

Raymond-Pond JV was given a task order by the Mobile District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to prepare a Design-Build (D-B) Request for Proposal (RFP) for Fiscal Year 2019 award. The task order required the RFP to be completed in 120 days and this deadline could not slip due to the time constraints of the federal government’s fiscal year-end and the minimum contract acquisition process time required to award a D-B contract. During the charrette, Raymond-Pond quickly realized the desired project scope could not be supported with the client’s $3 million budget, so a phased project plan was developed with conceptual-level design and cost estimating, and obtained buy-in from the client for the plan that reflected the centrifuge laboratory manager’s priorities, which were:

  • Renovate the control building and enclose the covered walkway connecting the control building and the containment facility
  • Construct a new storage annex adjacent and connected to the containment facility
  • Make roof, site and other building system repairs to the containment facility

GSL will be pursuing funding for the two follow-on phases in subsequent years. The cost validation, concept floor plans and renderings provided by Raymond-Pond will assist the centrifuge’s manager in marketing the need for the follow-on project phases.

After the charrette, a charrette report, a draft RFP, and a final RFP were developed and are ready to advertise RFP submittals. The lab manager and the Mobile Corps Project Manager were so satisfied with Raymond-Pond’s work that they agreed to forego one of the two planned design reviews and an intermediate submittal. Raymond-Pond successfully delivered the completed product 32 days ahead of schedule. The success of the partnership between GSL’s centrifuge manager, ERDC’s facility manager, the Mobile District Corps of Engineers, and the Raymond-Pond team can be summed up in two ways:

First, professional, pragmatic, friendly and solutions-based focus was maintained by all involved parties; and secondly, there is a large sense of pride that the Raymond-Pond JV team had in working to get a key part of our Nation’s engineering research and development capability back into operation.


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