SAHMRI gets an Imaging Makeover

Australia has several world leading medical research facilities. As the poulation ages, the need for effective health solutions will become even more important. This is why it is vital to keep our medical research facilities on the cutting edge, by constantly improving their capabilities.

The South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) is one of Australia’s premier medical research institutions, with ongoing projects that seek to investigate the causes and treatment of cancer, premature births, infectious diseases, depression, heart disease, Aboriginal health disparities, diabetes, and dementia. To ensure they have access to the very latest in technology and capabilities, SAHMRI has collaborated with Dr Jones & Partners to form the Clinical and Research Imaging Centre (CRIC).

SAHMRI facility manager, Peter Pannach sees the CRIC as a mutually beneficial partnership for both SAHMRI and Dr Jones & Partners.

“The ability for SAHMRI researchers to have access to leading edge imaging technology – along with the expertise to use it – in an environment that we knew was designed to ensure effective operation, is incredibly beneficial,” says Pannach.

“The CRIC also benefits from having access to SAHMRI’s cyclotron, which enables imaging staff to use new shorter half-life compounds in various scans. This gives the imaging team access to better quality materials, lowers the radiation dose patients are exposed to, and streamlines the diagnostic process,” he adds.

As with most health projects, the implementation of the fitout had to follow a strict timeline, and it had to be done while the building was in full operation. The 24/7 nature of SAHMRI precluded off-hours building, so the design had to consider how the fitout would be constructed in a ‘live’ environment, without reducing the operational status of other sections of the building.

To achieve this, all services had to integrate seamlessly with the base building infrastructure, and it had to be done correctly on the first attempt. NDY was the Lead Services Consultant for the base building, providing Mechanical, Hydraulic, Acoustic, Integrated Building Systems and Fire Engineering in the original design.

Bringing NDY on board meant that the team had first hand knowledge of SAHMRI’s base building, which shortened the lead time to a completed design, while ensuring that the service designs were compatible with the base building infrastructure.

A tight fit

The space available was a double height section of approximately 470 sq m. This wasn’t adequate to fit in all the required equipment and patient spaces, which would total approximately 800 sq m. The solution was to create a mezzanine level that would accommodate the necessary patient waiting room, as well as the conference and training spaces. This allowed the specialist imaging equipment to be housed on the lower level.

Mr Pannach believes the mezzanine option was the perfect solution to meet the needs of both SAHMRI and CRIC.

“From a commercial perspective, the amount of useable space was maximised, ensuring that all the leading edge imaging technology was kept in one location, making it cost effective and convenient for researchers and patients alike,” he says.

“Patients don’t need to travel to different sites to receive a variety of scans; they are able to have their treatment needs addressed in one location, and our researchers can consistently gain access to leading edge technology producing the highest quality data for their research requirements.”

Integrating the mezzanine level services into the base building required careful coordination due to the small service space, and the unique requirements of the expensive and sensitive scanning technology involved.

“The MRI machine in particular needed very specific services,” says NDY Office Manager and Project Director John Versace. “This included a helium purge line that would allow the machine to rapidly cool in the event of a malfunction. Usually the helium would vent externally when the machine overheats, but due to the location of the machine, we had to take the pipe up through the ceiling, back along the room, down through the service riser and then terminated it outside in the car park level below. It’s quite a long quench pipe, but it’s engineered to provide safe heat ventilation of the machine, even in catastrophic situations, ensuring the machine and occupants are protected.”

A “Beast” of a machine

The placement of the MRI machine was a particular challenge for the project. Because the machine was required for clinical research, it had to be extremely reliable. This machine also required complete isolation. Sound, radio signals and vibration could all ruin a scan, or compromise the research being conducted.

“The MRI was problematic due to the magnetic field it produces,” says Contech Architect Ben Klingberg. “There were a number of factors to consider on where it was placed. Vehicles moving in the car parking level below would interfere with the scans. Likewise, the adjacent train line caused vibration that would spoil the scan. To counter these issues, we moved the MRI so that it sat above the service space and placed it on a concrete isolation slab to minimise vibration and improve the acoustic isolation of the space.”

Given the MRI machine uses magnetic resonance to work, the slab below the machine had to have minimal amounts of ferrous material, including the normal steel reinforcing. “Too much ferrous material in the slab would distort the image,” says Ashby Baron, Project Manager for SHAPE Australia, the builders for this project. “We had to ensure vibration was minimised as well. To that end, a vibration isolated slab was constructed with 36 springs and housings, that separate the unit from the existing structure and nearby Adelaide railway station. Significant rework to the area below the MRI was also required, 18mm thick steel sheeting was installed below the unit to shield the space and ensure it could be occupied safely by occupants of the SAHMRI floors below”.

Acoustics were addressed with acoustic foam and steel shielding, with the signal isolation achieved by lining the room with copper wiring, creating a simple faraday cage. This would capture radio signals and dissipate them into the earth, protecting the sensitive instruments inside.

“The doors to the MRI room are specialist items,” says Klingberg. “They have copper linings to fully shield the radio signals. When closed, the room is completely isolated from any interference.”

With such a high degree of isolation and no natural air currents, the HVAC solution was vital to patient comfort. Creating an effective design was also a challenge due to the constraints of the project.

“The design couldn’t have any metal pieces,” says Versace. “Any metal object or excessive noise would compromise the machine’s effectiveness. Also, the split mezzanine just above meant there was little room for services. We had to carefully coordinate our designs with the architect, builder and call on our knowledge gained from involvement in the base building design to enable the CRIC staff to get the most out of this machine; and all of this had to be accomplished whilst maintaining a 24/7 operation.”

The other scanning equipment to be housed included a CT Scan machine, a PET CT machine, X-Ray and ultrasound machines. Each required a safe, surge free power supply, and modelling of the load placed on the floor.

A professional and comfortable environment

The conference and training areas on the second level sit next to the patient waiting areas, so ensuring that the activities within didn’t disturb the patients was also a key design goal.

“Practically every zone had to be acoustically treated,” says Versace. “This also meant that the HVAC environmental systems had to have minimal noise transference between zones. It also had to have a pleasant visual appeal to keep in line with the patient-centric purpose of the space, and reinforce the professionalism of CRIC.”

The solution in this area was to have semi-exposed services with horizontal slats forming a floating ceiling that obscured the service structure, yet did not obstruct the operation. Linear diffusers sit above the batons for Architectural considerations, along with the added benefit of lower air velocity, which means less noise generation in these areas.

The visual appeal of the Mezzanine level was carefully considered, with an emphasis placed on making a comforting and professional space. Incorporating the structural flower columns was a challenge, but rather than hide them, the designers used them to enhance the space.

“Instead of hiding the columns, we had them rendered in cement. It’s a technique used on the base building that worked really well,” Klingberg says.

The waiting room also brings in a lot of natural light, and includes views of the surrounding precinct.

“People who arrive are often seen wandering around enjoying the space instead of waiting in their seat,” says Klingberg. “This is exactly what we were trying to achieve in this area.”

The project team are aware that this project offers immediate and significant benefits to the research SAHMRI undertakes, as well as the health and treatment options for people across Australia. This was shown with the strong focus on a collaborative approach to ensure every aspect of the project was built to specification, on time and as designed.

“In my time at SHAPE, I’ve worked on some highly complex and challenging projects,“ Ashby Baron says. “This was the most technically challenging project I’ve delivered in the health space. Coordinating between all the parties on the project was vital to its success. I also found it to be personally rewarding, as one of the most innovative health projects in South Australia, offering great potential benefit to
the community.”

“It was a huge collaborative effort,” proclaims Versace. “The time frame and precision was a challenge that would not have been possible without the professional manner and expertise from all parties involved.”

Ben Klingberg is also proud of the outcome. “The final result is of a very high standard,” says Klingberg. “It looks and feels like a professional, well appointed space. It sets a new standard for fitouts in the health industry. I’m also proud of the fact it reflects Contech’s culture of working together with our partners to create a fantastic result on a tight deadline.”

The CRIC project is a fine example of collaboration between organisations to create a mutual benefit. SAHMRI now has access to cutting edge medical imaging, Dr Jones & Partners has new and developing technologies that they can explore along with their medical research, and the people of South Australia have facilities that match the best in the world.

Key Collaborative Team

Architect: BGK Contech

Radio Technology specialist: Siemens Healthcare

Builder: SA Shape

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  • Fire engineering
  • Mechanical
  • Medical gases

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