Engineering and construction science became reality for 15 Naval Academy midshipmen during a Nov. 29 tour of the 80 percent complete U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) facility on Fort Detrick, Md.

The midshipmen (juniors and seniors in naval architecture and ocean engineering) noted that word big applies to this project -- 865,000 square feet (including laboratories and support spaces), 10,000 tons of steel, 2400 architectural drawings, 400 caissons (huge cement pilings drilled seven feet into bedrock), 40,000 yards of concrete and 100 air handling units. The $524 million facility is designed to achieve the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver rating; a white-painted rooftop will reflect the sun and multiple solar panels will heat the water, thus lowering energy costs. Also, the four-story facility will house the largest Biosafety Level (BSL) - 4 laboratory in the world at 48,000 square feet.

Moving from the classroom in Annapolis to the muddy boots construction site in central Maryland, Jeff McMaster, the acting resident engineer for the project from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, explained the construction materials and engineering from ground level to the roof.

Midshipman Colin Schuhlein noted that the airflow ducts were "massive" with the largest measuring over 90 inches in diameter.

"The concrete and rebar are impressive," said Midshipman Abigail Chek.

"The regular class is all black boards and math and calculators -- here, you see how this all comes together," said Midshipman Max Cutchen.

Dr. Sarah Mouring, a professor in the department of Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering, also gave positive remarks about the new building.

"This is invaluable to see field construction. It is helpful to talk to students about careers and application. They can't give this kind of experience in the classroom," Mouring said.

The USAMRIID facility includes headquarters and administrative spaces, research offices to support laboratory areas, conference, training and break areas, multiple BSL-2, and -3 and -4 laboratories, specialty lab areas, veterinary medicine offices including animal housing, and other support functions.

The complexity and laboratory certifications required in the facility will drive the occupancy dates. Parts of the facility will be occupied in late 2014 in order to prepare and conduct the professional certifications for the extensive network of laboratories. Full occupancy is expected in 2018.

The USAMRIID replacement facility will consolidate the current Fort Detrick facilities that are outdated and impacting their primary mission. The facility is located in a multi-agency area called the National Interagency Biodefense Campus. Other facilities under construction on this campus belong to the Department of Homeland Security, National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Navy.

Midshipman David Harrelson immediately picked out the Navy building. "The superstructure resembled the aft of a destroyer," he said.