By Jenn Said
When the COVID pandemic made its way to America in early 2020, it quickly wreaked havoc on people and industries alike. Seemingly overnight, hospitals were nearing capacity and facing increasing surges of new patients every day. As cases continued to rise, construction and healthcare professionals banded together to build alternative care facilities that would accommodate COVID-19 patients and relieve the burden on hospitals.
New York state was one of the hardest hit by COVID-19, prompting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to initiate a project that would convert the Westchester County Center, a 5,000-seat multi-purpose arena, into a COVID-19 Alternate Care Facility (ACF) and bring 110 additional Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds to the region.
Haugland Group, a New York-based construction company specializing in energy and civil infrastructure projects, was given just 21 days to complete the project. “Our ultimate goal was to help people during this time of crisis, and we were proud to take part in the global fight against COVID-19,” said Billy Haugland, co-president of Haugland Group. “The project was extremely fast-paced. We received the call from the Army Corp of Engineers late Wednesday night and by Friday night, we had all hands-on deck.”
A Significant Undertaking with a Daunting Deadline
Haugland Group mobilized and assembled a team of industry experts including designers, engineers, suppliers, and technical project managers. The team got straight to work performing preliminary assessments, contacting subcontractors and provisioning materials. Lead times for materials and work tasks that would normally take weeks were condensed to days. “Equipment was hard to come by,” said Kevin Hansen, project manager for Haugland group. “Because many manufacturing plants were closed, we had to source equipment from companies throughout the country.”
The ACF was housed inside the Westchester County Center and across four tents located in the parking lot. Each of the 110 ICU rooms had to include pressure monitoring systems to ensure negative air pressure and minimize further transmission of the virus, nurse call stations for providing feedback to master stations, building automation control, fire sprinkler systems, and electrical and backup power systems.
Two weeks into construction, a medical gas supply system needed to provide oxygen necessary for ventilators was added to the contract. The addition required workers to install four large oxygen tanks, along with distribution piping and monitoring systems into each patient room. “This was a big change order that caused us to backtrack while also moving forward at full speed,” said Hansen.
Ensuring Worker Safety
At the time, doctors and researchers were still learning about the full effects of COVID-19, and health recommendations were frequently changing. In addition to threatening the safety and health of workers, any outbreak among the crew would jeopardize the entire project. “Completing a project in this timeframe under normal circumstances would be challenging, but in this case, we also had to protect workers from the very real hazard of COVID-19,” said Haugland Group Safety Manager, Matt Murphy.
Frequent temperature checks were implemented and workers were encouraged to speak up if they weren’t feeling well. Common areas were cleaned and sanitized daily, hand washing sinks, and hand sanitizer were provided, and workers were educated on proper hygiene and sanitation, as well as how to wear face masks.
Haugland Group completed the project in just three weeks, utilizing 85,000 man-hours. Diligence in safety paid off. The project closed out with zero injuries and no cases of COVID-19. “Everyone took pride in coming together to make this project a success,” said Hansen. “It was truly a team effort.”
Keeping Teams on the Same Page
Although the pandemic highlighted operational and technology shortcomings for many construction businesses, Haugland Group’s investment in technology before the pandemic played a critical role in successfully completing this project. In 2019, Haugland Group began using Viewpoint Team, a cloud-based collaboration solution that connects back office and field operations with its extended team of subcontractors, suppliers, architects, and owners.
The real-time flow of data from the office to the field teams was critical to keep up with the fast pace of the Westchester ACF project and ensure all the entities involved, including architects, laborers, foremen, supers, project managers and safety, were working from the most current, up-to-date information.
Haugland Group was able to upload, share, and manage complete digital drawing sets for review by other project teams and connect drawings through hyperlinks or specific areas or tasks such as RFIs or submittals. “As soon as the engineer and the architect updated a set of drawings, an email notification was sent to the entire team,” said Hansen. “Viewpoint eliminated the need to disseminate the information and the risk of not sending it to a particular sub only to discover eight hours later that they were going down the wrong path. Every person working on the project had visibility into the project’s progress and access to the most up-to-date plans, which is probably one of the biggest risks in a fast-track project like this.”
Planning for Today and the Future
With uncertainty lurking in the future of construction spending, many contractors are focusing on technology transformation as a way to differentiate their businesses and grow. On the other hand, companies that continue to resist could find themselves at a competitive disadvantage to those that modernize.
For the sake of the future, uncertain or otherwise, investing in technology today can create valuable opportunities to efficiently step ahead of the competition. The investment paid off for the Haugland Group, allowing the company to take on and successfully execute a fast-moving project without hesitation.
“In the past year, we went from a folder system on a shared drive that was not very uniform and required workers to VPN into the main office, which often had connectivity issues, to a cloud-based solution that has helped our project managers, supers and subs connect in a more efficient, collaborative way,” said Hansen. “The decision to advance our use of technology before COVID-19 hit not only paid off on this project but will continue to help our business weather the storm, stay competitive and grow.”
Jenn Said is a freelance writer covering the construction industry.