Consulting the Experts: Pressing Issues in Animal and Biocontainment Facilities

LED Lighting, Financial Sustainability, Renovations, and Flexibility
Published 12-13-2017

In the concluding Open Forum/Town Hall session of Tradeline’s Facility Strategies for Animal Research and Biocontainment conference, moderator Derek Westfall, president of Tradeline, and subject matter commentators, Mark Corey with Flad Architects and Tiffini Lovelace with EYP Architecture & Engineering, led a knowledge exchange on questions posed by conference attendees. This is an edited transcript of that exchange.

  1. Is LED lighting a good idea for vivarium renovations, or will it negatively affect the animals?

Lovelace: LED lighting can almost exactly simulate daylighting. Cycles can also be programmed so they gradually brighten and dim, and at the same time change their color rendition to simulate sunlight, sunrise, and sunset, for day and night cycles. It does not negatively affect the animals.

Tim Reynolds, TreanorHL: LED lighting for vivaria and rodent-based small-animal spaces is definitely worth looking at. Ask the manufacturers whether or not the red LED actually does the filtering that you need it to do; I haven’t gotten a satisfactory answer. And whatever fixtures you choose, make sure that you know where the drivers are and how to keep the LED drivers cool, because the failure is going to be in the drivers and not in any other component. It is a very easy source to dim, and as long as you are not monkeying around with any ultrasonic components, you are going to be fine from an animal facilities standpoint.

Corey: We have made a lot of progress in understanding what some of the wavelengths are in that red film, and we have a much better opportunity with LED and the manufacturers to get that even closer. There are some LED fixtures that are completely sealed, though, so if you put those in your facility, make sure that you can get them out, because they are not permanent and some will die prematurely.

Ian McDermott, University Health Network: We built our vivarium three years ago, and about almost two months before we were finished, we were doing behavioral suites and we ran out of space to put in traditional lighting ballasts. They came forward with the idea of using LED panels, which are about a quarter or three-eighths of an inch thick. They are Velcroed™ to the wall, low-voltage wiring, and you caulk around them. The vet adores them and wishes they were throughout the whole facility. They give more natural light and mimic normal daylight. They are so easy to install and don’t require anything except changing them out maybe every 10 years. The real beauty is that you can mount them vertically. In the behavioral areas, you are getting a much better dispersion of light, rather than just from the top down.

Jim Walker, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center: For several of our first projects, they were all over-lit, so, even if you are not planning to dim them, put a dimmer in them.

Richard Lynn, Texas A&M Health Science Center: We are doing 100 percent LED lights on all new construction. Make sure you ask for a 10-year driver warrantee. All the lighting reps are saying, ‘We’ll give you a $200,000 deduct on a $3 million lighting package, if you go with a five-year warrantee.’ It’s worth a lot more than that; that is where the problems are going to be. Make sure you know where your drivers are so they are accessible and you can maintain them. The lights themselves should last for 10 years.

  1. This is a question specifically about renovations: Even if the lighting cycles can be adjusted to be more natural, is the change itself a problem for research studies? The details of those environments have a lot to do with reproducibility. Has anybody noticed any difference going from non-LED to LED?

Paige Ebert, AALAS/AbbVie: Bob Dauchy from Tulane has a paper out on the blue LEDs, and I believe he’s got some standard LED lighting studies in the works.

Reynolds: My understanding is that Kenall Lighting is doing a tremendous amount of research on it as well, relative to animal facility lighting.

  1. I’m being asked to manage a population of mouse biobanks. Who is doing this, and are there any special considerations? What is a mouse biobank, first of all?

McDermott: That’s my question. It is actually called a form of living biobank. You take a human tumor biopsy, and you put it into the mouse and you grow an organelle. All of a sudden, we have to keep these mice and we are expanding the number of mice. How do you deal with that expanding population? I am concerned that we are going to run out of room very quickly.

Ebert: We collaborate with probably five different universities or health centers to procure our PDX mice. They are devoting entire wings to the PDX models. It is one mouse per cage, and usually those mice stick around anywhere from a month to a year to grow those tumors.

  1. Facility features and operating strategies for improving environmental and financial sustainability of vivaria.

Lovelace: What do the science and the regulations require? Regarding improving the environment, we’ve got regulations around the housing of the animals as far as staff goes. To improve the environment for the people in the BSL-3E environment at the Southeastern Poultry Research Lab, they put a break room within containment, in lieu of having them shower out multiple times a day.

Corey: There is a huge trend in creating a nicer environment, not just for the animals, but for the staff. A lot of glass on the inside, and glazing on the outside of the building, breakrooms inside, and much brighter colors. One advantage of LED lighting is that we can increase the level of lighting a little bit without increasing the electricity consumption. Varying the lighting helps a lot, too; and technology that reduces staff and/or operating cost, such as the technology of reading all the animals on day-to-day health checks, and automation strategies in cage wash and other places.

Lovelace: We have to consider the primary barrier or containment versus secondary, and how much emphasis we put on allowing the equipment to do its job versus forcing the room to do the same job that the equipment does. That is key to saving on utility costs.

Warren Hendrickson, HDR: Consolidating multiple vivarium spaces improves your finances.

Corey: For years, we have looked at the different models for holding rooms based on just capacity; now we are doing it for operational time. What is the most efficient way to lay out a holding room where the groups can change cages more efficiently? It has less to do with square footage than it does with the layout of the room and how you get equipment into the room. Often, we are forced to shrink rooms for financial reasons, and that can come at a huge operational cost, where all of a sudden you are changing 50 cages a day instead of 250.

McDermott: We are sending the rodent bedding in non-hazardous environments—with no biohazard and no chemical or cytotoxic material, which is the majority of the bedding—from our vivaria to biofuel processing centers, so it is not going to landfill; it is being turned into green energy.

  1. What about splitting the bus duct risers for normal and emergency power?

McDermott: This was a problem that we ran into, a building that is about three and a half years old. We split our vertical power risers north and south, which is traditional in a medical sciences building. In the riser, we have a normal power bus duct, an emergency, and an emergency express. There is a little bit of crossover horizontally from north to south. You distribute your normal power system, and then mimic it with your emergency to all of your critical equipment. At the end of July, we had a very small water leak in the roof, right over the vertical area where the bus ducts were. The water came trickling down into our normal power line and shorted out the vertical bus duct, and that took it down. We found about one or two cups of water in total. We didn’t know where the water was coming from, so slowly, over another 24 hours, the water creeped into the emergency line, and shut down the emergency power; and then it creeped almost immediately into the express line, and shut that down. I lost complete power options—to animal facilities, behavioral suites, all our laboratories—for half the building. Should we have split the north riser or the south riser to have two physically separate area risers, one for emergency and one for normal? This was less than a bucketful of water that shut our whole building down for more than a week. We had to shut down the research program, and we lost all of our work in our behavioral suites.

Reynolds: That is exactly the reason we have separate rooms for normal and standby emergency power. If something fails in one room, you don’t want it to cause a failure in the other room. I would advocate for taking the same approach in your distribution system. You don’t have to spend significantly more money. If you are doing bus duct risers and you are trying to save space by running all the bus ducts in one place, I don’t think you will spend significantly more money. Alternative locations for normal power panels versus emergency and standby power panels is just prudent planning in a facility that you obviously can’t afford to go down.

  1. How has decision-making on centralized versus decentralized animal facilities and cage washes changed in the last five years?

Hendrickson: The difficulty is in the sharing, but the economics, especially with some of the current personalized medicine strategies, are going to put even more demands on the vivarium and all that goes with it. There are efforts that can be developed to consolidate, maybe not go all the way to centralization.

Lovelace: There is also now more of a drive toward renovations and repurposing, so you are going to see fewer centralized options.

Corey: We just finished a centralized vivarium at UC Davis. Because of their weather, it is far cheaper for them to transport cages to and from the cage wash and to put cage wash in a different facility.

  1. What are the facility considerations when implementing new vivarium digitization technologies for new facilities and for renovations?

Corey: They are driving bandwidth. The last three decent-sized vivaria we did had interstitial space. The amount of bandwidth they needed drove significantly more points for the Wi-Fi. In that case, they prefer not to have it inside the vivarium space for maintenance, containment, and sterility. Due to the equipment in the interstitial space, you almost have to have one receiver per room. There is significantly more equipment on the IT side that goes up there, because there are a lot of other things, like rack fans, that require bandwidth, and that is how people want to communicate now, and by cellphone, too.

Clifford Roberts, UCSF: Is increased Wi-Fi points or ethernet enough, or do we need to run fiber to all the animal facilities?

Lovelace: Imaging is definitely going to require running the fiber.

Corey: Other than behavioral rooms, we haven’t had that request yet.

Westfall: For a new facility, would there be some reason not to put in that capability?

Corey: Cost.

Westfall: How much?

Corey: Outrageous.

Westfall: Exponential?

Reynolds: It is not the fiber cost, it is the equipment driving the fiber. If you were looking at double, it wouldn’t shock me.

Westfall: Is increasing the number of wireless points enough, or do the cage racks and equipment need to be connected to ethernet jacks?

Corey: Both. We had a client recently that was quoting $4,500 to $5,000 per IT point. If those rack fans can be done Wi-Fi, it is significantly cheaper.

Reynolds: If you have any imaging technology in your vivarium, you cannot do it wirelessly. It has to be hard-wired. There is no Wi-Fi capacity for those files. They are too big, and if you tried to, it will usually crash your system.

  1. Top project programming and execution concerns for renovating active BSL-3 environments.

Lovelace: The project planning, execution, and training come into the biosafety aspect of it. Protocols are set up that anything that might be hazardous is either removed for the day or locked up. It is going to be very different if it is a select agent BSL-3 environment versus just a BSL-3 research environment, because of things like background checks. It can be done; the proper PPE and training has to be implemented, and then the scheduling of it is the most important.

Unknown speaker: That is ridiculous. If you are going to try to do anything in BSL-3, ABSL-3, it has be deconned, and you can’t have any active agents going on in there. You have security and occupational health risks. The risk is too great.

Lovelace: But it does happen. It’s not ideal; I agree with you 100 percent. The best time to do it is during annual shutdown.

Unknown speaker: And you just have to do a risk assessment on it.

Corey: Like any other complicated project, you need a really great project execution plan and have the contractor on board from day one. This is not something you can do and design and build and hand it off to a GC and expect it all to work. This is an extremely complicated and highly risky environment. It’s scary.

  1. What facility design strategies and technologies should we be looking at to reduce renovation costs?

Corey: Be realistic about goals and objectives. Suggesting that you are going to go into an existing facility and create a state-of-the-art renovation/addition over here, when the rest of the facility is not, and tie them back together again, might be untenable from a cost standpoint. You need to see what is more realistic about what you can and can’t do in the building without affecting the existing renovation.

Hendrickson: Do the demolition first and then go back and finish your drawings. If you can know the unknown, it takes that variable out of increased cost later on.

  1. Your favorite flexibility feature, space, or equipment, that provides the most value in vivarium upgrades.

Corey: In multispecies facilities, the goal is often to make every room good for rodent, aquatics, dogs, swine, and primates. There is a cost associated with that. Understand the limitations and differences in the spaces required. There are some counterintuitive things with French drains and sloped floors versus flat floors and ventilated caging: Large animal facilities could be converted to rodents, but the rodents probably would never be converted to large animal facilities. It’s just too difficult to do and the rooms are different sizes. Use as much movable equipment as possible, so all the procedure rooms have movable casework and countertops, easily capped sinks and plumbing, and to some extent are convertible to holding rooms if necessary.

Lovelace: Thimble connections versus hard connections. Reconsider the notion of being able to instantly switch from a BSL-2 or an ABSL-2 to a BSL-3 or ABSL-3, because it is not that fast, unless you are already set up to operate that way.

Richard Lynn, Texas A&M Health Science Center: In our vivarium, they had a nice breakroom and two offices for the vets. Now, one of the offices is an animal holding room and the other is a necropsy room. It was very difficult when there was no exhaust in there for the office area and none for the break area. So, if you are going to put rooms like that inside the vivarium, make sure they are capable of being exhausted when converted, because sooner or later, someone is going to say that they want that space.

  1. How can we add more supply and exhaust air to our vivarium while staying operational?

Unknown speaker: Oversize everything!

Lynn: Our BSL-3 in particular was designed for a certain amount of equipment, let’s say a non-ducted biosafety cabinet, a refrigerator, or freezer. Inevitably, people call me saying that it’s too hot. When you start investigating, they added three or four incubators, or a Madison chamber, and oh, here is the amount of heat it produces. How do you increase the airflow on the supply side to take care of the heating and increase the exhaust, which may or may not be there, in a fixed amount of ductwork and with a fixed number of fans? All the fans in our BSL-3 are running at full load, so, there is not much wiggle room. If the PIs say there is going to be 3,000 watts of heat, plan for 6,000.

  1. Are organizations still struggling with the no pressure reversal requirement, or have the solutions gone mainstream?

Lovelace: It is still a problem in some locations. There has been enough talked about and enough known at this point as to why pressure reversals have been a problem—ceilings coming down and the timing of the controls, as well as allowing a place for the air to escape. If all of these facilities are set up with a traditional big air handling unit, small exhaust fans are going to burp positive. Understanding that you have to have a more robust, rigid ceiling in order to withstand the pressures during shutdown and restart has now gone mainstream. Those details are making it into the design drawings, now that people have a better understanding as to why it happens. One of the simplest solutions is just supplying a hole in the wall that gives the air somewhere to go. As long as it is not leaving containment—and it is normally the rooms that have the most ducted exhaust in them that are going to fail—put a hole in the wall that can be sealed up for decon, and give that air somewhere to go.

Lynn: It has a lot more to do with sequencing fans; it is also sequencing exhaust valves, supply valves. We use stack effect to help generate that negative pressure. The way we test the supply fan fault functions and the exhaust fan fault functions, we have not ever gone positive during a test. And when we run a test, we have three or four people on the controls system in the mechanical room. We have biosafety officers and people down in the suite with their own meters, and they are smoking every door. We have six people inside the suite when we are testing. The key to all of this is getting a good commissioning agent who understands what you are trying to do and how he can use the system components to make it happen.

Corey: That goes back to one of the discussions here about not starting the project until your standard operating procedures are in place, so that the engineers can start to understand what is going to happen.

Lynn: That is part of it. This goes all the way back to the owners. We, as a university, advertise for an architectural firm. We supposedly pick on qualification, but the first thing we do bang on the architect and engineer who will give us the lowest price. If we don’t like the price, we go to the next firm. Then the architect goes to the engineer and says, well, we only got 5 percent for this job. You can do it for three-and-a-half. That is not where you VE out on a lab facility. I don’t think A&M and a lot of universities do it the right way. When I was a consultant, I faced this all the time. Put the money in the engineering up front and find a good engineering firm and get a good commissioning agent on board now before you start.

Lovelace: The design team has to be involved in the commissioning, or any knowledge they had of their design intent does not follow the process all the way to testing.