Magazine article Health Facilities Management

Speed to Market: Hospitals Tap Modular Construction to Meet Building Demand

Magazine article Health Facilities Management

Speed to Market: Hospitals Tap Modular Construction to Meet Building Demand

Article excerpt

On May 22, 2011, St. John's Regional Medical Center, Joplin, Mo., was torn apart by a violent tornado. "The hospital was hit directly," says John Farnen, executive director of strategic projects for Mercy, the health system that operated the hospital. "Walls were blown in, elevator shafts blown apart."

The day after the storm, Mercy made the decision to rebuild, Farnen says. Less than a year later, they had.

The following April, Mercy opened a component hospital that the health system is using as an interim facility while the organization completes a much larger rebuilding project for its growing community. The 150,000-square-foot, two-story component hospital was designed and built in eight and a half months by Aspen Street Architects, Angels Camp, Calif., and Walden Structures, Mentone, Calif. "I've been doing design and construction a long time," says Farnen. "But eight months? I didn't think that was even possible."

The hospital is made of 224 structural steel components built in Walden Structures' California factory and shipped by train and truck to Missouri. The modular units already were under construction as the Joplin site was cleared and foundations and underground utilities were installed.

With modular construction and prefabrication, "the speed to market is incredible," says Jim Poole, senior vice president, construction and engineering firm Robins & Morton; prefabrication helped the firm to build MaineGeneral Health's 640,000-square-foot Alfond Center for Health, Augusta, Maine, in less than 25 months. And the quality of components built in a controlled environment can be "superior" to those built in the field, adds Ken Fennell, LEED AP, division manager of preconstruction, also of Robins & Morton.

A growing number of health professionals are turning to modular construction as an efficient means to create quality facilities. "It's definitely here to stay," says Chip Cogswell, national health care director, Turner Construction Co., New York City. "Anybody who's not doing it isn't paying attention."

Off-site advantages

According to the Modular Building Institute, an industry trade group, modular construction is the process of building a structure off-site, under controlled conditions, using the same materials, codes and standards as conventionally built facilities, in about half the time. Buildings are produced in modules that, when put together on-site, reflect the design intent and specifications of the most sophisticated traditionally built facility, says Tom Hardiman, CAE, executive director, Modular Building Institute.

Prefabrication is the process of assembling smaller building components in a factory setting and transporting them to the building site for installation, explains Andrew Quirk, senior vice president and national director of construction and development company Skanska's Healthcare Center of Excellence.

When building under controlled conditions, quality goes way up, says Quirk. The off-site setting is a safer, more comfortable work environment that tends to attract the best workers, he says. It also can provide quality assurance opportunities that may not be available at the hospital site. For example, work crews can monitor connections on a factory-built building facade to make sure joints are tight and waterproof, making it less likely the joints will fail in the field.

"With a production line, you can work out bugs early," comments Mark Taylor, vice president of permanent modular construction for PCL Construction, an international group of independent construction companies. This is especially important for repetitive parts of the design, like patient rooms and bathrooms. If a design calls for 200 rooms, "you can build 200 right," particularly if you aren't working with several different framing, plumbing and drywall crews, he says. "The more variables you have, the harder it is to have a consistent product," Taylor notes. …

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