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New Orleans' UMC hospital sees construction speeded up by technology
A building once part of an auto dealership serves as a “factory” for prefabrication of components to be used in the new University Medical Center.

Big project in the Big Easy

Technology helps speed timetable for new UMC

By Andis Robeznieks
Posted: May 24, 2013 - 12:01 am ET

When finished, the $1.2 billion University Medical Center will be an integral part of the BioDistrict New Orleans, which seeks to be a bioscience hub built around research conducted at Louisiana State, Tulane and Xavier universities. But with its extensive use of computerized building information modeling and prefabrication of facility components, construction of the medical center itself is serving as a learning laboratory.

“Everyone on our team would like to work this way on the next project,” says Eric Hanson, principal architect with NBBJ who is working on the medical center as a joint venture with Blitch Knevel Architects. The high-tech approach to UMC's construction is shaving time and cost from the project.

Plans for the 38-acre site include a 551,000-square-foot, 424-bed hospital with an adjoining 747,000-square-foot diagnostic and treatment center; a 258,000-square-foot ambulatory-care building; and a 540,000-square-foot, 1,346-space parking garage. The project—managed by Skanska MAPP, a joint venture between Skanska USA Building and MAPP Construction—is expected to be finished in December 2014. Just to the west, the Veterans Affairs Department is building a $995 million medical center set to open in 2016.

Before construction could begin on UMC, 283,000 cubic yards of Mississippi River sand were brought in to raise the elevation of the site to 22 feet above sea level and above the flood levels seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. The new facility will be a replacement for nearby Charity Hospital, damaged beyond repair by Katrina. Charity's sister facility, University Hospital, was renovated and reopened with a new name, Interim LSU Public Hospital.

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In July, its operation will be handed over to Louisiana Children's Medical Center, a not-for-profit corporation that also runs Children's Hospital and Touro Infirmary, both in New Orleans. When UMC opens, services offered at Interim will be moved to the new hospital, which will also be managed by Louisiana Children's.

LSU Health spokesman Marvin McGraw says that, under an agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Interim cannot stay in operation as a hospital when UMC opens. No decision has been made on how the building will be repurposed, McGraw says, adding that outpatient clinic and office uses have been discussed. The new UMC is being funded with $300 million from the state, and the balance will be covered by FEMA and “third-party funding,” according to a report to state officials from Jacobs Engineering, the project's program manager.

Attempting to avoid repeating problems that occurred during and after Katrina has been a driving principle behind the project. “It's been a major part of the design,” says James Clemmensen, senior project executive with Skanska USA. This includes having enough water and power to support seven days of “island operation” in case utilities are cut off.

The Jacobs report notes how clearing the UMC site involved acquiring 244 parcels of land. Unlike the VA site, where the Pan American Life Insurance Co. building, dating to the early 1950s, was renovated for administration offices, there were no historical buildings on the UMC site retrofitted for permanent use.

Technology helps speed timetable for new UMC
The new $1.2 billion UMC is expected to be completed in December 2014.
There are, however, three remaining buildings on the UMC property. One has been historically preserved: McDonogh School No. 11, a two-story, 1,500-ton, 16-classroom building built in 1879. According to a state news release, it's “one of the top 10 heaviest structures ever moved in the nation.” Only it hasn't moved very far. The old school remains onsite where it has to be relocated periodically to accommodate different phases in the hospital's construction. “It was jacked up, and the plan was to move it down the street about a mile away,” Clemmensen says. “That hasn't happened.”

Another building is a four-story clinic now housing office space used by Jacobs, Skanska MAPP and others. The third building is an old auto dealership that has been turned into a factory of sorts where the prefabrication of building components is taking place. Through the use of building information modeling, or BIM, precise layouts for plumbing pipes, electrical conduit, air ducts, sprinkler systems and medical gas units are created and space conflicts between them are avoided—allowing maximum use of tight ceiling space. More importantly, complicated pipe configurations, known as “racks,” can be manufactured in a controlled environment and fitted into place at the construction site.

The mechanical racks for the diagnosis and treatment building are being manufactured at the factory, as are patient headwalls and patient room “bathroom pods.” Mechanical racks for ceilings in the inpatient tower are being assembled in a nearby location.

The project's original request for proposals called for a 36-month timetable, and Clemmensen estimates using BIM and prefabrication has shaved three to five months off of that schedule. “We're now utilizing it in every project we possibly can,” he says.

Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks

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