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Building Benchmarks for 50 Years

Two women managers oversee the $280 million Grandview Medical Center project for Brasfield & Gorrie — marking the 50-year-old company’s longstanding initiatives to advance women builders.

Overseeing the $280 million Grandview Medical Center project for Brasfield & Gorrie are Virnetta Woodbury (left), project manager, focused on the medical office building and parking deck; and Susan Stabler, senior project manager, focused on the hospital.

Overseeing the $280 million Grandview Medical Center project for Brasfield & Gorrie are Virnetta Woodbury (left), project manager, focused on the medical office building and parking deck; and Susan Stabler, senior project manager, focused on the hospital.

Work on the new Grandview Medical Center on U.S. 280 in Birmingham is moving forward more than a decade after the building’s former owner brought construction to a halt. One firm that is back on the job is Brasfield & Gorrie General Contractors. The company has been in business for 50 years, and, like the structure itself, has weathered change since the day of its founding.

HealthSouth Corp. started construction on the hospital in 2002 with a promise to build a state-of-the-art, digital facility. But by 2003, the project, overseen by Brasfield & Gorrie, stalled when HealthSouth faced charges of accounting fraud. HealthSouth later sold the property to the Daniel Corp. Then in 2008, Trinity Medical Center announced plans to purchase the hospital and relocate from its Montclair Road campus in Birmingham. Other area hospitals objected to the move and launched challenges before a state regulatory board and in the courts, until 2013, when the Alabama Supreme Court refused to hear the case. Trinity then closed on the transaction for $37.6 million and selected Brasfield & Gorrie, in partnership with A.G. Gaston, to manage the hospital’s completion.

When construction resumed, one of the first tasks was upgrading and retrofitting equipment such as boilers, chillers, generators and air handling units throughout the hospital, says Senior Project Manager Susan Stabler.

“We spent six months in this retro-commissioning phase,” says Stabler. “What that means is that there were multimillions of dollars of equipment that were put into this building to run all of the mechanical and electrical systems of the building 10 years ago that were only partially run. A lot of it had never been turned on, and then a portion of it worked at very minimum capacities for 10 or 11 years. It all had to be retested, because there had been little maintenance done and little use of it over the last decade.”

Trinity, which rebranded itself as Grandview Medical Center last year, is spending $280 million to complete the hospital, which is located within the Daniel Corp.’s Cahaba Center at Grandview development, says hospital spokeswoman Leisha Harris.

Crews moved an estimated 105,000 cubic yards of blasted rock from the site in more than 8,000 truckloads between July and September of 2013, according to the company. By July of this year, construction crews had started the masonry work and were installing precast slabs, working alongside three tower cranes stationed on the 15-acre site, says Virnetta Woodbury, a project manager in Brasfield & Gorrie’s medical division. The project includes the 1 million-square-foot Grandview Medical Center, a 220,000-square-foot medical office building and a 2,900-space parking deck.

“We’re moving pretty quickly right now,” Woodbury says.

The company is employing mobile devices, apps and other high-tech tools on the construction site that were not available in 2002, Woodbury says. The entire site is Wi-Fi connected so crews in the field can access building plans and other important documents using a construction app called PlanGrid from their mobile devices.

“The superintendents and some of our foremen all have iPads, and some have Android tablets,” she says. “Having Wi-Fi on site allows us to be current with everything that comes out. Let’s say a revision comes in at 10 a.m. We can upload it, and as long as they have access to the Internet, when they go into it, it will automatically update it so they have the most current drawings instantly. Everything is uploaded into the PlanGrid to give the guys in the field access to everything in real time.”

In addition to PlanGrid, Brasfield & Gorrie recently teamed up with researchers at Auburn University to test the use of drones as a more efficient way to spot any deterioration that may have occurred over the years along the building’s exterior. With a drone, made by Aibotix, they were able to look for problems, such as failed caulking joints and sealants, broken glass and fractures in the precast, without having to put workers on scaffolding to examine the building manually.

“It is able to capture photographs and has a laser scanner,” says Stabler. “It’s one of the most high tech ones out there.

“The exterior precast of the building is being recaulked,” she says, “which you would typically do every 10 years anyway, but the bones of this building are solid.”

The hospital has 12 stories and a penthouse. Once completed, the facility will have 372 beds, 72 intensive care unit beds, 14 post-partum beds, 60 psychiatric beds, 209 medical/surgical beds and 20 operating rooms with enough space for future expansion. The hospital also will have 9,300 light fixtures and 1,300 new fire alarms.
Stabler and Woodbury say construction should be complete by July 2015.

The hospital is just one of many iconic structures the company has built over its five decades.

Brasfield & Gorrie began in 1964 when Miller Gorrie paid $45,000 to purchase the construction assets of a company that Thomas Brasfield started in 1921. Then in 1967, Gorrie renamed the company Brasfield & Gorrie. He was the company CEO until 2011 when his son, Jim Gorrie, stepped into the position. Miller Gorrie remains as the chairman.

Brasfield & Gorrie is teaming with American Builders to create the new Atlanta Braves baseball park slated to open in 2017.

Headquartered in Birmingham, the company now has offices in Atlanta and Columbus, Ga., Jacksonville and Orlando, Fla., Dallas, Texas, Nashville, Tenn. and Raleigh, N.C. Some of its more recent projects includes the UAB Women and Infants Center, Westin Hotel and Railroad Park in Birmingham, the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, the U.S. Courthouse in Shreveport and Nashville’s Omni Hotel with its 800 rooms and 200-seat, live entertainment venue.

The company worked on the new $66 million College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta and is a joint partner with American Builders to construct the new Atlanta Braves ballpark that is scheduled to open in 2017.

Now Brasfield & Gorrie is embarking on a new project within the company, an employee resource group for women holding various jobs in construction operations, says Stabler, who is leading the effort.

“The goal is to help recruit, retain and develop women in these roles like the ones Virnetta and I hold,” says Stabler, who joined the company after graduating from Auburn University’s Building Science Program in 2003. “Because, at the end of the day, it all comes back to a more diverse company, and a more diverse company is going to be a stronger company.”

Stabler says the program will debut this fall with a summit meeting at which more than 30 women in construction operations at Brasfield & Gorrie, including project management, estimating and safety, will gather to meet and network.

“They want this to be a good place for women to work and a place where they feel like they can stay and have a family and succeed in the business world,” Stabler says.

Creating a rewarding work environment is among the core values the company highlights on its website.

“The values that Mr. Gorrie had from the start of the [company] have basically never changed,” says Woodbury, a University of Alabama civil engineering graduate who joined Brasfield & Gorrie in 2006. “He brought people on board who had his same values, and it has trickled down from then until now.”

Gail Allyn Short is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.

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