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How Turner Construction built a COVID-19 care facility in just 28 days

How Turner Construction built a COVID-19 care facility in just 28 days

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Home Magazine Articles How Turner Construction built a COVID-19 care facility in just 28 days

On a construction project, time is precious. No matter how many months or years are budgeted to complete a project, there are always unforeseen obstacles that threaten to throw it off schedule. Finishing an 18-month project—even just a few days ahead of schedule—often is a cause for celebration.
As our country confronts the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, time is a luxury that we do not have. So, when the US Army Corps of Engineers approached Turner Construction Company to work on an urgent project—a $7.2-million overflow facility for COVID-19 patients in Nashville, Tennessee—it knew from the outset that it be working under much tighter time constraints than any other project it had been involved with. Turner also understood that the moment called for the company to step up and do its part to help.
Normally, a project of this scope would take about nine months to complete. But because of the unpredictability and rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus, the project needed to be completed as soon as possible in case the rooms needed to go into immediate use. Turner was given 29 days to build the facility. It did it in 28.
Unlike many of the other COVID-19 alternate care facilities built around the country this year, Turner built this one inside an existing medical building—Nashville General Hospital at Meharry Medical College, an 89-year-old facility that was last renovated in the 1970s. Working inside a fully operational hospital brought its own set of organizational challenges, from overcoming the structural limitations of the older facility to making sure that its work did not interfere with the hospital’s crucial job of caring for its patients.
The Turner team demolished 15,000 square feet of storage space on the hospital’s eighth floor, which had housed hospital beds and medical equipment for decades, and built 40 new single-patient rooms. These spaces were separated by partitions and given negative-pressure airflow to prevent the airborne spread of COVID-19. It also built infrastructure on the second floor to create negative-pressure air space for 27 existing beds and installed a new HVAC system to support the entire 24,000 square feet of COVID-19 treatment rooms.
Running the clock…
To accomplish this project in the allotted time, work ran on-site for 24 hours a day, seven days a week—in three, eight-hour shifts a day for Turner staff and two 12-hour shifts for our trade partners. The Turner team had to accelerate every aspect of the project to hit necessary milestones. Work that normally would take place over three days often needed to be done in a single shift. This sometimes meant that two trade partners would be working simultaneously, starting on different ends of the floor and meeting in the middle.
Because of time constraints, Turner used design-build project delivery, collaborating with the architect, Earl Swensson Associates (ESa), from the beginning of the process and addressing any necessary changes as a team. It was a true collaborative relationship. It provided input to the design team based on its knowledge of what would work best for the site, and they were incredibly receptive.
Turner received the original design within 72 hours of signing the contract. A construction administrator from the design team was on-site constantly, so if it needed a revision to the design, changes were made that night so that it had updated plans the next morning.
Upon visiting the site for the first time, the Turner team identified several critical items that needed to be addressed immediately so that it could work effectively and hit its goals. Chief among them was a way to transport construction materials back and forth from the ground to our work sites on the second and eighth floors.
Two of the hospital’s elevators were not working, and the stairwell was not a suitable alternative because of the extra time it would take to bring materials up and down. On a project with a conventional schedule, Turner would have considered installing a buck hoist on the side of the building; however, it would have taken up to eight weeks to design and build one, which was more time than it had for the entire project.
Turner decided that the only workable option within the time available was to fix one of the hospital’s elevators and install a trash chute—an unexpected extra task that its team had to make time for. The team also cut windows into the side of the building in order to bring large materials inside via a hydraulic crane.
Throughout this project, the reality of COVID-19 was never far from the construction. In fact, after starting work, Turner learned that it was much closer than it had previously realized: The seventh floor, directly below it, contained a prison population with COVID-19 patients.
Whenever work had to be done in the ceiling of the seventh floor, the Turner team made advance arrangements with hospital administrators and wardens, allowing them time to move patients and sanitize the space. Because the patients were still incarcerated, they followed the same protocols as when they work in a jail or prison, accounting for any tools on the site so that they wouldn’t be left behind unknowingly and used as contraband.
The team also took extensive precautions to avoid spreading COVID-19, not just among their workers, but to others in the hospital as well. Crew members were screened each morning, had their temperature taken, wore PPE masks, goggles, hard hats and gloves, washed their hands regularly and practiced social distancing to the extent that they were able.
Under normal circumstances, a construction project is like a marathon, where the finish line is reached through steady progress and endurance. This project was more like a 100-yard dash—fast, intense and exhilarating. Tackling what was seemingly an impossible task kept us excited and laser-focused on our goal.
As stressful as the work might sound, the morale among the team on this project was very high—in fact, one of the most positive work atmospheres the Turner has been a part of. The entire team was grateful to participate in a project like this. During a period when so many things seem uncertain and uncontrollable, it is nice to feel like you are part of the solution.
Paul Lawson is a healthcare project executive for Turner Construction Company in Nashville, Tennessee. He joined Turner in 2005 as a project engineer and previously served as the Special Projects Division (SPD) senior project manager.


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