Building Blocks

Civil engineers are key to success in the healthcare and eldercare construction business.

Many things are driving the expansion of the healthcare industry: the aging population, the need for more efficient operations, advances in technology, and population shifts. All of these variables have created the opportunity for our company, Elford, Inc., to develop a strong healthcare and eldercare client base. Because Elford, Inc. depends on repeat business in the private market sector, it is important that we partner with the project team from preconstruction through final completion, closeout, and warranty.

As construction managers and general contractors, the engineers on our staff are involved with healthcare projects in the early planning and design phase. On an urban site, discussions may include piling or tie–back systems, utility relocations, and foundation options. For more open sites, water retention release, site grading, and wetland issues come into play.

During design, constructability reviews are held to help control costs. Understanding the cost impact of conceptual ideas requires an engineering understanding of design and construction practices. Structural concepts may need to be modified to accommodate the many pieces of heavy equipment or those that require lead or concrete shielding. Bid packages may need to be tailored to fit the schedule or manpower and materials available.

As a builder, the civil engineer needs to know how to schedule a project so that it can be built within a specified timeframe. This means not only knowing how to read drawings and understand the work of the various trades, but also knowing the scheduling software being used, and how to produce the desired results. A keen eye for detail is important because hospitals are complex.

The schedule needs to be compressed. Many times, the most important thing is to ask the right question. The hospital will have two levels below grade, so how do we hold back the walls of the excavation? Can we speed up the concrete pour sequence? Does the pour rate and tie size/spacing give us an opportunity to pick up some time? Can we break more cylinders and possibly load or re–shore sooner?

One of the advantages a civil engineer has in the field is the understanding of loads and their impact on a structure. Questions that often come up involve the moving of heavy loads, such as rooftop air handlers across bays that may not be designed to accommodate the load. The decisions needed may include structural load issues, cranes, rigging, and safety. Although the civil engineer may not know the specific design answer, he or she is expected to raise the question to the right level of awareness so that the appropriate person can respond.

Civil engineers can play another important role on a hospital construction project: the role of a leader. The project team on a hospital project is made up of a group of people with diverse professional training, including doctors, nurses, architects, engineers, computer technicians, specialty equipment vendors, and contractors, to name a few. As a project manager, the civil engineer can facilitate the communications between all of these people with varied interests, always keeping in mind the goal is to reach consensus and advance the progress. A good combination of engineering and communication skills is a must.

The population of the United States will reach 300 million in the very near future. I expect to see a strong demand for civil engineers in healthcare construction for many years to come. Individuals who develop the skills referenced above will certainly be in demand.

—Jeffrey Copeland, P.E.