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Standout Projects: Health Care Landmark

Colored exterior glass panels lend a bright touch to the Birmingham skyline.

Colored exterior glass panels lend a bright touch to the Birmingham skyline.

Photos by Caroline Baird Summers and Jeff Miller

The largest single medical facility expansion project in the history of Alabama was completed in 36 months, ahead of schedule and under budget.

Children’s of Alabama’s Benjamin Russell Hospital for Children opened its doors in August, a 12-story, $400 million, technologically advanced, family-friendly facility that is now the nation’s third largest pediatrics hospital.

The hospital set firm environmental goals in planning and building and will seek LEED gold certification.

The new hospital is located only a block away from the original hospital building, on the south side of Birmingham. It was built without closing busy streets and with little room for construction materials and debris. As a result, there was very little of both on site—owing to careful planning, offsite fabrication, just-in-time delivery and recycling that went beyond many construction projects today.

“You just don’t get an opportunity to build a project of this scale in a downtown setting on an existing campus,” says Stephen Green, project executive for Hoar Construction. “We were 50 feet from UAB and 30 feet from the original Children’s, and we were able to go from demolition of some existing structures to installing the foundation, using three tower cranes, building three new pedestrian bridges spanning streets and building the entire facility while everything else was totally uninterrupted. We were not able to shut down streets.” A subterranean tunnel was built under 6th Avenue South to connect both facilities and allow workers to travel through and transfer materials.

This project used many local contractors and subcontractors, which not only created local jobs but also helped items be delivered more timely, says Mike McDevitt, executive vice president of facilities for Children’s of Alabama. “It is part of our LEED certification that we use materials that are located no more than 500 miles from the location, but we also wanted to enhance the local economy. About 85 percent of our materials and the majority of local contractors are from Alabama. And we provided construction jobs from May 2009.”

At peak manpower, about 5,000 people were on site, and the project enjoyed a stellar safety record that included mandatory training, McDevitt says. Safety was enhanced because so much was built offsite and installed in components.

One important example of just-in-time work was the unique skin curtain glass panels that front the building. Panel units were engineered and fabricated offsite, then shipped over to be lifted in place. “That was done quickly, so that we could work a great deal inside,” Green says. “The panels are an architectural element as well; the lighted colored strips light up the Birmingham skyline. The panels are 30 feet tall and eight to 10 feet wide.”

Richard Drennen, president of Superior Mechanical, a Birmingham-based commercial plumbing contractor on the site, says just-in-time delivery was vital to their operation. “We either made components offsite or shipped materials here and built it onsite. Everything was pre-assessed, prefabricated, precut and controlled as to when it would be delivered. It took an incredible amount of organization. Everything shipped to the site was ready to ‘plug and play,’ and we also cut out a lot of waste doing it this way.” The strategy was a money saver, too, Drennan says, cutting about $750,000 from plumbing costs alone.

Drennen says the project also used Building Information Modeling software, which enabled contractors and subcontractors to meet and see how a certain area was to be built in order to avoid “collisions” of services and contractors. “We downloaded reports every week and were able to see what was happening and being installed as we went along, and, so, were able to fix a problem before we sent people out.”

Recycling was a huge endeavor, Green says. Everything that could be salvaged or recycled was carefully saved. The design itself uses 20,000 gallons of condensation collected daily from the huge air conditioning units to irrigate two roofs with native plants. A special coated roof cuts down on heat gain from the sun. The design makes the most of natural lighting yet ensures the sun never hits the windows on the broad side of the building.

“I am thrilled with the level of expertise and professionalism that our contractors brought to this project,” McDevitt says. “It’ll be one for the record books.”

Click here to download the PDF listing of Alabama's Largest General Contractors, Architectural Firms, Subcontractors and Engineering Firms. 

Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.

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