EB Is Busy Making Pfizer Site Its Own
By Jennifer McDermott
January 22, 2012
Open layouts foster creative collaboration
The day after the last of the Pfizer employees left the New London research headquarters, Electric Boat put its mark on the property.
A 10-foot model of the USS Ohio was installed in the lobby. The model of the research headquarters and the surrounding area, left behind by Pfizer, was moved off to the side.
Today the submarine manufacturer is almost finished retooling the office space in the complex it purchased in 2010 so its engineers and designers can collaborate with greater ease than ever before.
The majority are working on the design of a new ballistic-missile submarine to replace the Ohio-class submarines - a program that company executives say is critical to maintaining stable employment but which has become a target of federal budget-cutters.
If it doesn't stay on track, the benefits EB gained by redesigning the office space won't mean much, said Peter J. Halvordson, EB's vice president of design and engineering.
"The success of what we've done here is preliminary," said Halvordson, the senior manager at the New London campus. "Being able to keep the program sold is something else."
On a tour last week, while some engineers were sitting in front of their computers, many were standing in groups of two or three, brainstorming.
The designers and engineers constantly consult one another because they're often confronted with new challenges, and each person has certain skills or information that may help, Halvordson said.
"In a knowledge industry, you depend on the transfer of knowledge," Halvordson said. "We have more ability to bring people together to communicate than ever before."
Instead of recycling Pfizer's layout, EB gutted and redesigned much of the space to be flexible and reconfigurable, Halvordson said. The engineers and designers will not be at the same desks for years at a time, but instead will move around depending on their assignments.
They sit in groups of two or four at tables separated by partitions in the center of the rooms. Most of the individual offices once used by Pfizer scientists were gutted. The offices that remain are used by managers or employees who need to work in silence. EB has kept the same kitchenettes, copy centers and fitness facility that Pfizer had.
A team of about 60 people works in each room, which Halvordson said is a logical grouping for the projects. The teams think of themselves as neighborhoods. The neighborhoods have not yet been formally named, but several teams are trying to claim "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."
Close to 2,000 people work in two of the three towers, B and C, the same number of people Pfizer once had at the site. Tower A is still under reconstruction, with the work expected to be complete in March.
By the spring, Halvordson expects the head count to climb to 3,200 as more employees relocate from the Groton shipyard across the Thames River and the company hires 300 more engineers to work on the new class of submarines. The capacity in New London is 3,600. About 1,200 engineers and designers will remain in Groton.
Their goal for the Ohio replacement program is to significantly reduce the cost - using many of the same techniques they employed to make Virginia-class submarines cheaper - so it will be affordable to the Navy.
Leaders in Congress and the Defense Department have said that everything will be scrutinized as they look to reduce the mounting national debt.
The Pentagon is seeking to cut at least $450 billion in spending over 10 years. Another $500 billion in automatic cuts, known as sequestration, could be ordered beginning in January 2013 due to the breakdown of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, unless lawmakers reach some sort of agreement before then.
Halvordson said it would be difficult to maintain the stable employment outlook at the New London campus if sequestration, which he called a "draconian action," occurs.
Two years ago EB was looking into options for office space because the engineers and designers were spread out among seven antiquated buildings at the Groton shipyard and they were running out of room.
Developers in Rhode Island, where the company's Quonset Point facility is located, were anxious to talk.
Then, in what Halvordson called "perfect timing," Pfizer said it was leaving its New London research headquarters.
EB announced in June 2010 that it was purchasing the property, which has more than 700,000 square feet of space.
EB paid $55 million for the complex that Pfizer built for almost $300 million nine years before. Pfizer and EB would share the space for a year while the scientists relocated.
EB's engineers were used to working behind gates, and the campus was a much more open environment, which initially they were sharing with Pfizer. So a barrier was put into place at the entrance to EB's workspace, and no one could pass without a badge. EB employees did not talk about their work in the common areas.
Halvordson heard from some of the Pfizer scientists before they left that the campus felt more populated with EB there because many of the Pfizer employees had been working from home, traveling or spending time at the pharmaceutical's Groton facility.
About 40 percent of the employees in New London are between the ages of 20 and 30 - a change in the demographics at the campus that the owner of the nearby Stash's Cafe is happy about.
"We noticed when they were closed for Christmas there was a big difference, a downturn," said Timothy O'Reilly, the owner.
The joke is there's a fourth tower, S, for Stash's, since many of the younger EB workers are there for happy hour late in the week, O'Reilly said. He has catered retirement parties and birthday lunches at the site and sold take-out to people who walk over on their lunch break.
Many of the employees like working in New London because the buildings are modern, Halvordson said, while the buildings in Groton are where the first nuclear-powered submarine was designed.