Sanofi-aventis, the international pharmaceutical giant with 15,000 employees in the United States, is settling into its new Tucson Research Center, a gleaming structure in Oro Valley's Innovation Park that is an investment of more than $60 million.

It also represents an investment in science, company officials say.

"Our scientists are creative, productive, passionate people," said site director Beth Koch. "The company wanted to give them the ability to grow. At the previous site (on Hanley Boulevard), there was no more growth. The scientists really got us here. They're so creative, so productive."

"I kept telling the scientists here that money's tough to get for any capital projects," said John Cocco, senior project engineering manager from the Sanofi-aventis office in Bridgewater, N.J. For Sanofi-aventis to "spend money here, in Tucson, the company saw something, and in my mind, they saw the scientists."

Those scientists perform experiments with compounds and biological substances to identify interactions, and search for "leads" that could result in new pharmaceutical products. Many of the scientists in Oro Valley have been with the company for years, and they come from all over the world.

At Hanley Boulevard, Sanofi-aventis was "running out of space" in more than one building. Koch looked to lease more space, and nothing was the right location or fit. Senior Sanofi-aventis leaders visited, recognized the value of the Tucson scientific activity, and gave the go-ahead to build a research center.

The search began for land. Sanofi-Aventis bought the Innovation Park parcel, 11.54 acres with 9.5 buildable acres, in June 2007.

"It was perfect," Koch said. It helped, she said, "that the technical park is named Innovation Park," with the promise of more biotechnology, and with Ventana Medical Systems as a neighbor.

Formal approval to construct soon followed. Engineers and designers began to create a facility with the "needs of the scientists and associates" in mind, Koch said. "What came first was sitting down with the scientists and saying 'what do you want?' What's essential for their work? We couldn't do everything, we had to prioritize. But we met almost all of their needs."

At Hanley Boulevard, Sanofi-aventis operated a "research building," Koch said. On Innovation Park Drive, "we've built a research center."

"I've never seen a scientific group be as much a part of the project," Cocco said. "They've been committed, involved, they've been fun."

Labs are equipped the way scientists want them. Chemistry laboratories, instrument rooms, chemical storage, shipping and receiving are on the first floor, with biology laboratories, biology automation and analytics on the second floor. People meet in the center "to encourage interaction, for people to sit and talk about science," Koch said. "Interacting is what makes the difference here."

The compound collection (see page 5) spans both floors, and there is a chemical "dumb waiter" moving chemicals from one floor to the next. Mechanical systems and the data center are in the basement.

Cocco praises architects and engineers from Kling Stubbins, experienced in creating laboratories. "They had a lot of suggestions," he said.

"It's almost like two separate buildings," with 30,000 square feet of office space on one wing, 80,000 feet of laboratory space on the other, Cocco said.

"A key on the design and construction was safety," Koch said. Sanofi-aventis used a "red dot" schedule, with meetings about specific tasks, and walk-throughs before "whatever the hazardous construction task was going to be."

Sanofi-Aventis is "a leader in that whole area of safety awareness," Cocco said. "Our proudest achievement is we had no serious accidents on this project. It was on time and on budget."

He was grateful for the support of town officials. "They didn't cut us any slack," he said. "The town had our best interests at heart. They had inspectors here every day. If it didn't look right, they came right to us."

Moving the Sanofi-aventis scientific laboratory from its Hanley Boulevard location to Innovation Park was no simple task.

It was "a three- to four-week process for everything to get in here," Koch said. Yet, at its finish, scientists and employees packed up personal items on a Friday at the former location, and opened boxes that Monday in new quarters.

Koch said moving contractors did an "excellent job," with great attention to the details of safety and environmental effect.

Sanofi-aventis Research Center

2090 E. Innovation Park Drive, Oro Valley

110,350 square feet

Total project cost, to include land, engineering, architecture and design -- $61 million.

Building construction – approximately $40 million.

Public art investment – approximately $400,000.

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