October 16, 2013
Public private partnership hospital project earns kudos
General Contractor Over $40 million
One of the largest institutional projects recently built in Northern B.C. has earned a VRCA 2013 Silver Award in the General Contractor Over $40 Million category.
The $237 million Fort St. John Hospital and residential care facility (Peace Villa) was a joint design-build P3 project between Acciona Infrastructure and Stuart Olson Dominion Construction Ltd.
The 162,000-square-foot integrated health centre sets a high bar, not only as one of Northern Canada’s largest regional hospitals, but for also achieving LEED Gold certification.
“You don’t usually get projects of this magnitude this far north,” said Acciona’s Mike Bebbington, the senior project manager.
Still, the project that replaced a 51-year-old hospital came in on time and on budget.
Ground was broken at the 40-acre site in the summer of 2009.
Completion was in May 2012.
Working in B.C.’s rather remote northeast for three years brought two specific challenges for the Acciona/Stuart Olson team.
With temperatures dropping to -30C in the winter, work had to be phased-in over the seasons, said Dave Bauder, with Stuart Olson, and the project’s construction manager.
During summer 2009, foundation work was done, but because the steel hadn’t arrived, the foundation was covered with heat-radiant pipes to stop frost heaves and protect the foundation, Bebbington said.
Frost in that part of the country can reach six feet deep, Bauder said.
The temperature was kept to 1C for several months.
Because the warmed area was about the size of two soccer fields, heating costs were substantial, Bebbington said.
Accustomed to Lower Mainland projects, where winter rain can be pumped out, Bauder noted that scheduling was crucial.
The second challenge was attracting qualified workers to resource-based Fort St. John, 1,200 kilometres from Vancouver.
Major projects in that area involve industrial construction, centred on the mining and oil/gas industries.
Different skills are required when it comes to building an institution like a hospital, said Bebbington, a former mason, now a civil engineer, who worked on various hospital projects in his native U.K. before immigrating to Canada in 2000.
Many of the skilled trades workers came from Edmonton or the Lower Mainland.
“We relied on the trades we knew,” Bebbington said.
As part of the contract, a monthly report revealed where project employees came from: 38 per cent were local while 62 per cent were from outside the region, Bebbington said.
About eight per cent of the crew was Aboriginal and five per cent were female.
The cost to fly workers in and out was high.
“We did over two million miles on Air Canada.” Bebbington said.
Most employees worked 10 days, followed by four days off.
Bauder, on the 10/4 schedule, said work was stressful because hospitals are complex buildings full of high-tech equipment. Specialized trade work was necessary.
User groups also had a lot of input into what they wanted from their new facility, which includes three operating rooms, an ICU, birthing centre, emergency room and endoscopy suite. To keep work on track, a “really intense quality control system,” was in place, Bebbington said.
The safety crew was trained in infection control.
Cleanliness was paramount. Dust levels were kept far below usual conditions.
One rule was, no eating in the building because if someone left a sandwich, it could conceivably start to mould in a wall, a big no-no in a hospital.
Initially, some workers tried to cut corners when it came to quality control, but when they had to redo work, which cost them money, they began toeing the line, Bebbington said.
Building to LEED Gold certification posed a challenge due to the geographic remoteness, adding some difficulty when it came to procuring materials.
But, with a $1 million penalty hanging over the builders’ heads, solutions were found.
Sustainable building features include stormwater retention, surface water management, use of natural light, high-energy efficiency, reduction of volatile organic compounds and noise-reduction acoustics.
Acciona/Stuart Olson also instituted an apprenticeship program, hiring trades students from the local Northern Lights College.
And, a school art program encouraged students to draw the new hospital. The submitted artwork was printed on fine netting that was wrapped around the worksite fence.
The community strongly backed the project and was fully engaged during the three-year build-out, Bauder said. Also important was how well Acciona, a 100-year-old company headquartered in Spain and Stuart Olson Dominion, also 100-years-old and headquartered in Calgary, worked together, merging their respective staffs.
Bauder likened it to a winning hockey team which realizes that teamwork helped deliver the big prize.
“We talk about how our team gelled to get the project done,” he said. “The guys sometimes say, they miss the camaraderie.”
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