Project: Ultrafast Systems headquarters expansion
Location: 830 Consumer Court, Sarasota
Date: Planning began in mid-2019, with construction commencing in early 2020 and wrapping up in mid-October.
Cost: $1 million
Size: 8,000 square feet
Builder: Firmo Construction, Sarasota
Architect: Firmo Construction
Project details: Ultrafast Systems makes laser spectrometers — advanced, high-precision measurement devices sold to universities and research institutions worldwide. Uses, according to the company’s website, include photophysics, photochemistry, photobiology, materials science, nanoscience and solar energy conversion and storage. Ultrafast has been growing rapidly and needed to convert the second floor of its headquarters, which was essentially an attic space without a lot of practical use — into a fully functional laboratory space.
Sounds easy, right? Not so much.
Because they need to be able to absorb even the tiniest amount of vibration for the sake of accuracy, laser spectrometers are mounted on large tables that weigh 2.5 tons. That means the building’s expanded second story needed to be supported by a reinforced floor and foundation.
"We are always looking for unique projects,” says Eric Collin, president and founder of Sarasota-based Firmo Construction, which had $6.6 million in gross revenue in 2019, up slightly from $6.5 million in 2018. “And this was certainly one of them.”
Cool factor: The pair of laser tables on the second floor required the structure to support 5,000 pounds of additional weight. But that wasn’t even the coolest part of the project. Firmo was also tasked with retrofitting an elevator to make the building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act — which is part of the reason why the total project timeline included about six months’ worth of planning and strategizing.
“Usually, you build an elevator shaft when the building is being assembled,” says Collin, stating the obvious. “We had to go in, create an elevator shaft, cut through concrete floors, install hydraulics and then modify all the unreinforced structure.”
Challenges: Ultrafast Systems’ headquarters threw up some significant hurdles for the project. The company, to keep up with growth, couldn’t afford to shut down for construction, so Firmo had to perform a lot of its work at night and on weekends. The company’s laboratory setting and ultra-technical work — “This is a company whose lowest-level [worker] has a PhD,” Collin says, only half joking — also made the job trickier than most.
“It was very important [for Ultrafast] to be able to continue to operate in an environment that's highly sensitive to dust and vibrations and all that," Collin adds. "So we have to get really creative with the construction process. It took all sorts of protective measures.”
Collin says the “piecemeal” approach to the project also meant there couldn’t always be a full contingent of workers on site. “The sequencing of the work was not what you would normally encounter,” he says.