Hensel Phelps – Kaiser Permanente San Diego Central Hospital

When Kaiser Permanente was still in the early planning stages for its new hospital campus in San Diego, the healthcare organization brought Hensel Phelps into the process. As the general contractor on the project, being involved from the start allowed Hensel Phelps to better advise Kaiser Permanente as it developed the hospital’s schematic designs. 

The builder was even able to enlist its major mechanical and engineering subcontractors as early as May 2012, two years before construction began. Involving all of the major players early fostered collaboration and helped Kaiser Permanente determine the most efficient ways to design systems for the hospital and support buildings, ultimately saving money.

The ability to work closely with its clients and the team’s dedication made Hensel Phelps the ideal partner for the hospital campus construction project, according to Charlie Robben, senior project manager for Hensel Phelps. The project comes on the heels of another hospital Hensel Phelps built for Kaiser in Anaheim that included much of the San Diego team. “Anybody can go out and build a really good-looking facility, but I think it’s the people that make the difference,” he says.

Kaiser Permanente is a healthcare consortium with medical offices and hospitals in 10 states and Washington, D.C. The new San Diego campus will be located on a 19-acre parcel in the northern part of the city. The $900 million San Diego Central Hospital Medical Center will total 565,000 square feet and include a 321-bed hospital, central power plant, hospital support building and a parking structure. The project comes on the heels of another hospital Hensel Phelps built for Kaiser in Anaheim that much of the San Diego team was involved in.

Construction began in March 2014 and is trending ahead of the anticipated 2017 completion, Robben says. The hospital itself is about 50 percent built and should be finished by the end of 2016 but other buildings are further along. The central plant is in the final stages and is on track to be turned over to Kaiser in October, Robben says.

Developing Design

The natural and regulatory realities of California create additional considerations for any construction project. The state’s famous seismic activity might make for a fun Hollywood movie, but keeping structures upright whenever the earth shakes requires a heightened level of building codes. Further, the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) has strict oversight on every hospital project and each plan change must be vetted and approved by the agency. 

`“It’s a challenge, but it’s nothing we’re not used to,” Robben says of OSHPD involvement. “You just work it into the plan.” He adds that such projects helps build Hensel Phelp’s experience. “If you can build a hospital in California, you can go build anything anywhere else.”

The project utilizes a three-tower design with an exterior curtainwall covered with sunshades. The design of the hospital’s north side takes inspiration from sails and a two-story atrium features a serpentine radius glass wall. Glass can be found throughout the building because the architects sought to incorporate natural light wherever possible. “Kaiser’s big focus on this campus was bringing a lot of light inside,” Robben says. 

The entire building was designed to accommodate natural light. Even the patient toilets were moved from the outside of the structure to the interior to allow for more window space. “By doing that, it opened up the amount of natural light you see from the exterior,” Robben explains.

The focus on natural light ties into Kaiser’s desire for a hospital that better facilitates natural healing. That philosophy will extend to the patient rooms themselves. Behind each bed’s headboard, a changing light will illuminate the room throughout the day. The headboard light will be bright during the daytime to mimic the sun, but become a softer amber color at night. Hensel Phelps worked with lighting manufacturers to create the specialty lamp for the hospital. “It naturally matches the time of day to match the [body’s] circadian rhythm to promote healing,” Robben says. 

Implementing Sustainability

Hensel Phelps is constructing the hospital campus with LEED Gold standards in mind. The hospital will use all LED lights, and sun shades on the exterior will reduce heat. On the inside, a chilled beam system will be used to regulate temperatures inside patient rooms. 

In a chilled beam system, warm air rises to the ceiling and is cooled by a coil in the unit, and natural induction recirculates the air into the room. Because the system uses individual units, it allows the builder to reduce the size of ductwork and eliminate ceiling fans in the room. Chilled beam systems are more common in Europe but Robben says this will be the first time the technology is used in a California health facility. 

The tri-generation plant on the campus is designed to maximize efficiency. The plant converts natural gas into electricity, then repurposes the exhaust for heating and cooling. “Ultimately, it runs 24 hours a day and it takes up that base energy load for the entire campus,” Robben explains.

The hospital’s parking garage was finished in April but already is being put to good use. Hensel Phelps is tapping into the solar panels on top of the garage to power lighting, elevators and construction tools, Robben says, and has offset the energy use of construction activities by 25 percent.

Building for the Future

The technology going into the building may seem exciting today, but could be generations behind by the time the first patients enter the building in 2017. A lighting fixture designed in 2012 might not even still be manufactured in 2015, Robben points out, so flexibility is paramount. “The biggest challenge for us is to design and build something that when we open the door it’s not already out of date,” Robben says.

The building is designed to be “plug-and-play” to accommodate changes in technology as the project nears the end and Hensel Phelps works closely with manufacturers to keep up to date on the latest advancements. By maintaining open communication with its suppliers and the client, Hensel Phelps ensures it will deliver a quality hospital that matches the level of care Kaiser provides its patients. 

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