New campus SHIELD Illinois lab completed in record time


Using the lessons learned during the 2021-2022 school year, the University of Illinois System’s SHIELD Illinois program decided to consolidate its labs into fewer, higher-volume labs. For this school year, SHIELD Illinois consolidated operations into two University of Illinois/SHIELD Illinois-owned and operated labs to optimize logistics and transportation routes.

“At the same time, we were operating our NextGen sequencing and innovation lab out of the Incubator Lab Facility on the UIC campus. While we had plenty of room there, the building just wasn’t built to meet the stringent criteria of a CLIA-certified clinical diagnostics laboratory,” said Len Musielak, senior director, SHIELD operations. “So, we had a choice: Find a new space at another lab facility – which would require us to pay rent outside the U of I System – or invest in the ILF building. The decision was not hard to make because we wanted to reinvest in a system asset and leadership was fully on board.”

According to Musielak, SHIELD Illinois wanted to not only upgrade the building for its purposes but also add in ways that would provide a benefit to other tenants now and far into the future. The project included $2.2 million in building upgrades but had a short timeline of six weeks to get the most difficult tasks completed so the lab could become operational.

“Again and again, our partners and alumni have come through to make seemingly impossible things happen,” SHIELD Illinois Managing Director Ron Watkins said. “We pride ourselves on moving fast, but this renovation is truly remarkable because of the number of people and steps involved in the process. UIC’s Facilities Management team was especially fantastic to work with and made crucial contributions to this project. We are incredibly grateful to everyone who played a part.”

These key facility upgrades included:

  • Upgrading an existing 35 kilowatt generator to a brand new 200 kilowatt unit.
  • Completely gutting and refinishing three laboratory spaces, which included:
    • Removal of original built-in casework and replacement with modular units that can be moved to fit changing workflows.
    • Replacement of fluorescent lighting with high-efficiency LED panels.
    • Replacement of flaking epoxy floors with brand-new laboratory-grade finish.
    • Addition of auxiliary cooling units for each space to provide the humidity and temperature control required to perform high complexity assays.
    • Installation of new dedicated circuits tied into backup power via a new generator.

To meet the project deadline, each task required a massive effort and “all hands on deck” approach from everyone involved. UIC’s Planning, Sustainability and Project Management team initiated the project May 20 and completed its design June 22. Construction began July 1.

“All contractors worked extra hours to ensure that the project stayed on schedule,” PSPM project manager Branko Bogicevic said. “Teams worked seven days a week for four weeks and added night shifts whenever it was necessary. UIC trades, like west side movers and carpenters, made a tremendous impact on this project as well by providing an expeditious response on various work orders. And we were able to expedite the procurement process during a time of ongoing supply chain issues so that the project could be completed on time.”

At times, the project team faced obstacles that seemed impassable.

“In those cases, it was University of Illinois System alumni who came to the rescue,” Musielak said. “We reached out to people we didn’t know — who we found on LinkedIn by filtering for graduates from system universities — and asked them to lend a hand to their alma mater and the State of Illinois. In each case, these strangers went above and beyond to clear the obstacles.”

Construction of the new lab was completed Aug. 1 and it became operational Aug. 24.

“This project is a perfect example of what can be accomplished when you have assembled a great team with a shared vision,” said John Coronado, vice chancellor for administrative services. “Everyone involved knew the importance of their work no matter what their role, and that commitment to excellence enabled us to complete this project in record time to support the mission of SHIELD Illinois.”

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