Contractors Converting Convention Centers Into Coronavirus Hospitals


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By: Kendall Jones

The coronavirus pandemic is putting a strain on the nation’s healthcare system as hospitals try and keep pace with the growing number of confirmed cases of COVID-19. In order to treat the growing number of coronavirus patients, states and healthcare providers are looking for ways to add more hospitals beds in some unconventional ways. Everything from moving in naval ships to opening up recently shuttered hospitals to converting currently unused spaces like dormitories, hotels, and convention centers are being considered.

New Hospital Construction on Hold

While hospital beds are in high demand, especially states with larger numbers of coronavirus cases, some hospitals are choosing to put recently started and upcoming projects on hold. This is being done to focus all efforts and resources on the current pandemic. While no two projects are the same, hospital construction can take a couple of years to complete using traditional construction methods.

In Wadena, Minnesota, a $70 million, 123,000-square-foot replacement hospital for Tri-County Health Partners was expected to break ground in July and completed by Spring 2022. That project is being postponed by about a year at this point.

Altru Health System recently put a $300 million hospital construction project in Grand Forks, North Dakota on hold. The project broke ground in June 2019 and was scheduled for completion in 2022.

ProHealth Care recently put a $55 million hospital renovation and addition project in Mukwonago, Wisconsin that began in February on hold. The project was initially scheduled to be completed in the next three months but due to the delay they are optimistic that construction can resume soon enough to finish construction by the end of the year.

China Built New Hospitals in Days

In Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus outbreak started, the government was able to build two temporary hospitals in a matter of days to treat COVID-19 patients. The first one was completed in 10 days and 1,000 beds and the second was completed in 12 days with 1,600 beds.

The hospitals used prefabricated structures and crews of over 7,500 laborers working around the clock to get the hospitals completed and operational as quickly as possible. China used a similar technique during the SARS outbreak back in 2003 in Beijing.

A similar approach to hospital construction is being approached by Plaza Construction and Central Consulting & Contracting. They have contracted with FullStack Modular to build and ship modular units that can be used to adapt existing space or added to create new wings or freestanding structures.

Both firms are waiving all management fees and only charging for materials and labor for any coronavirus-related healthcare construction project. They are currently offering these services to hospitals in Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, and New York, as well as those located in the mid-Atlantic.

Expediting Hospitals Nearing Completion

While almost all construction sites sit dormant in Pennsylvania, the one exception has been for healthcare construction. To that end, Penn Medicine has had crews working three shifts, 24/7 to get 120 patient rooms, of the planned 500, completed by the middle of April, 15 months ahead of schedule to help treat coronavirus patients.

Army Corps of Engineers Drafts Blueprints

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) was deployed on March 19 and have scouted out over 1,000 locations across the country, including dormitories, hotels, arenas, closed hospitals, and convention centers, to identify viable spaces that can be quickly converted into makeshift hospitals to treat patients, both those who have COVID-19 and those who don’t.

They’ve developed blueprints, including creating spaces with negative pressure spaces or rooms in order to treat patients require the use of ventilators for breathing, that can be easily deployed to convert college dormitories, hotels, sports arenas, and convention centers into Alternate Care Sites in as little as five days and at a maximum up to two weeks.

As of April 15, they’ve awarded 15 contracts, with 7 pending, for their Arena to Healthcare projects and 11 contracts awarded, with 5 pending, for their Hotels/Dorms to Healthcare projects. They’ve already completed three of the 26 projects awarded.

Reopening Closed Hospitals

Data from the American Hospital Association claims that hospitals have been closing at a rate of 30 per year. To combat the coronavirus, some of those recently closed hospitals and hospitals with unused wings are planning to do some turn-key renovations and open back up as quickly as possible.

The Inspira Medical Woodbury in New Jersey, which closed in 2019, is planning to reopen its doors and provide an additional 300 beds. In Chicago, Clark Construction in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers is working to retrofit and upgrade the MetroSouth Hospital in Blue Island to treat about 550 COVID-19 patients.

Converting Convention Centers, Hotels, and Dorms to Hospitals

Completed projects include the Javits Center in New York City with 1,900 beds that completed by the NY Convention Center Operating Corp., the TCF Center in Detroit with 1,000 beds completed by Gilbane, and a Quality Inn hotel in Florissant, Missouri with 120 beds completed by Tarlton Corp.

Other projects that are expected to be completed in the next week or two include: Chicago’s McCormick Place Convention Center with 3,000 beds being done by Walsh Construction, SUNY Stony Brook with 1,038 beds by Turner Construction Co., SUNY Old Westbury with 1,022 beds by AECOM Technical Services, the Denver Convention Center with 2,000 beds being done by ECC Environmental, LLC, and Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, Michigan with 1,100 beds being constructed by Gilbane Federal.

Here at ConstructConnect, we’ve seen a number of Sources Sought RFQs going out from the USACE in regards to these efforts as well as other healthcare construction projects related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Final Thoughts on Construction’s Role During the Coronavirus Pandemic

For the most part, states that currently have shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders have deemed construction, to some extent, as essential. In addition to healthcare and hospital construction projects, construction companies are working on repairing and installing vital infrastructure like roads, bridges, water and sewer projects, schools, electric power generation and distribution, and telecommunication projects. Keeping projects like these will be vital when things slowly start getting back to whatever our new normal may be once this pandemic is over.

It’s also important to remember that more projects may be put on hold or postponed due to the economic impact that the coronavirus pandemic is creating. Construction projects for things like restaurants, retail stores, hotels, and office buildings are going to take a hit and it will impact the entire industry from architect and engineers down to general contractors, building product manufacturers, trade contractors, and all the ancillary suppliers and service providers.

Safety and worker health should be the top priority and social distancing, personal protective equipment, and other prevention methods like handwashing and cleaning and disinfecting tools and equipment should continue to be practiced. Business owners of all sizes need to also be looking at how they can weather this storm and prevent their company from becoming a casualty of this pandemic.


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