Hunt Construction Group, An AECOM Company – Houston Methodist Hospital – Phase 1

Hunt picHunt Construction Group, An AECOM Company, overcomes many challenges as it builds the replacement hospital for Houston Methodist on the Texas Medical Center campus, known as the North Tower.

By Stephanie Crets

The Hunt Construction Group team strives to do the best work with the right people.

One of the company’s latest ventures is the North Tower for Houston Methodist Hospital, which is more than 10 years in the making. Pre-construction for the new 980,000-square-foot hospital began in March 2014. The new hospital will be ready for initial occupancy by the end of 2017 and become fully operational by the third quarter of 2018. During 2018, Hunt will demolish and renovate interior spaces of the existing buildings once the hospital moves into the new facility, as well as complete the build out of shelled spaces.

Luke Schultz joined Hunt Construction in 1997 and developed professionally with the company until he became project operations manager, overseeing the Houston Methodist Hospital project. One of the most notable attributes of the hospital is the Arms of Christ mosaic that was installed on the front of the old building in the early 1960s. But over the years, as the hospital developed and grew, the mosaic has been hidden and is no longer viewable unless you’re inside the hospital. Therefore, part of the project will entail relocating the mosaic to the atrium of the North Tower.

Having grown up in Houston, Schultz has his own personal attachment to the project and the mosaic. “What’s neat for me is that this is all full circle,” he explains. “When I was very young boy in the late ‘60s, I would drive around the medical center area with my grandfather. I remember looking at it when I was just a young boy. My grandfather would point it out, and we would stop to look at it. And now, so many years later, to actually be responsible for relocating it and refurbishing it in what will become the new face of the hospital, it’s a monumental task.”

Culture of Safety

When the new hospital and renovations are complete, Hunt Construction will have built more than one million square feet of space on the project, which means this is no small job. “Little hospitals pale in comparison to the logistical challenges with building something this big,” Schultz says. “This is the largest medical center in the world and the busiest and adjacent to multiple active hospital buildings that we physically tie into it.” Hunt box

To stay ahead of the challenges, Hunt Construction and the team at the hospital put together a plan upfront to deal with the day-to-day activities of staff, doctors and patients, keeping in mind everyone’s well-being during the construction process. Part of that was dealing with the tight space in which the company must work and ensuring everyone is aware of safety regulations. “We have really moved toward a new belief in our management in creating safety as a culture and integrating it into our work with staff and subcontractors as well,” Schultz says.

That means everyone is responsible for safety and all parties have full-time safety representatives onsite. “They identity hazards within their own activities and figure out how to mitigate those prior to, and during, the course of work,” Schultz adds. “We found that to be an integral part of creating this culture of safety. Everyone looks out for each other. We’re watching each other’s backs and it has been very successful.”

Lessons Learned

Schultz recognizes that while every project is different, each can present lessons that apply to the next one and so on. But the one thing that remains unpredictable is the weather. “We continue to improve on and learn from how we deal with a building from a weather standpoint during construction,” he explains. “It is undoubtedly the greatest challenge we have in construction. But it’s inherent in what we do as we try to meet schedules.”

During the beginning phases of construction of the hospital project, the Houston area experienced unprecedented rainfall and flooding. Schultz says the project site had an excess of 14 inches of rainwater at one point within a half-day period. “Our focus during events like that are not only what is best for the site and building, but really to turn towards the protection of the existing hospital to ensure we’re not creating a situation that will jeopardize the well-being and protection of the active hospital and specifically the patients,” he notes.

Hunt Construction combats the weather by using new types of materials and technology to better withstand the elements. The hospital is the first Houston project using a product called Vaporlock, which is a mixture integral to the concrete that seals it from within. It helps with two key aspects: It fills the pores in the concrete so water cannot be absorbed into or leak through the concrete, and prevents “trapped” moisture that can delay final floor covering installations.

In addition, the company has been doing a lot of offsite prefabrication to protect the materials. “We’re not perfect but we strive to continue to improve,” Schultz says. “So far, we’ve done a good job with planning and maintaining our protections.”

But the biggest challenge will ultimately be relocating the mosaic. And in turn, it will also be Schultz’s proudest accomplishment once the project nears completion. “I think that the mosaic brings a really neat addition to the new opening,” he says. “This is the new hospital we’re building. It’s the beginning of change with a new front and new entry, coupled together with bringing the historical side of the mosaic into it. I think the grand opening will be very exciting.”

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