Early involvement in the Lancaster General Hospital expansion positioned Benchmark Construction to better solve logistical challenges.
By Tim O’Connor
The city of Lancaster, Penn., has only 59,322 residents, according to the latest U.S. Census data, but its downtown area is as vibrant as any other town. Building a major project in the center of the city has the potential be a major disruption to the people who live and work there. So when Lancaster General Health began planning a major expansion of its downtown hospital it knew it needed a contractor who could balance not only the needs of the project, but also those of the residents and businesses nearby.
Benchmark Construction was the clear choice to helm the project. For the past 28 years, whenever Lancaster General Health needed to renovate a department or make an addition at one of its outpatient facilities or downtown campus it called on Benchmark. “There is a level of trust there that I think is uncommon in the industry,” Flynn says.
“They [Benchmark] really have to work as a conductor of a large orchestra,” says John Lines, public relations manager for Lancaster General Health. “All these players come in with different talents and different perspectives. It’s our audience – the neighbors and stakeholders – that have to be pleased with the final performance.
“We are very pleased with how well Benchmark works with our neighbors to understand the impact that ongoing construction over an extended period of time can have over the quality of life of our neighbors,” Lines adds.
The project will add six floors on top of an existing three-story portion of the hospital’s structure. That extra space will add 60 patient rooms, to bring the total to 533 beds. More importantly, the hospital’s existing 71 semi-private rooms (142 beds total) will eventually be converted into private rooms with single patients, improving Lancaster General’s already impressive facility. Additionally, Lancaster General will have the flexibility to fit out the fourth and fifth floors to add additional beds in the future.
Work on the foundation commenced in October 2015. Design packages were prioritized and distributed to ensure that Benchmark had the information needed to support the schedule. Design was complete in June 2016 and Benchmark worked collaboratively with Cannon Design and Lancaster General Health through the process to help ensure that the Owner’s vision for the project was realized. Communication was key to developing the completed design documents alongside the initial construction progress. Collaboration was made easier by the proximity between Benchmark and Lancaster General. During the project, Benchmark is working out of the third floor of a building across the street from the hospital. Lancaster General, which owns the building, has its offices on the second floor. Flynn says the closeness helps expedite decision-making and allows Benchmark to be more responsive to Lancaster’s questions and concerns.
Trust was critical in the design of the project, but also in how construction proceeded. The hospital continues to operate while the addition is underway. As a result, Benchmark needs to consider the affects the project has on patients and staff. Lancaster General is fully committed to patient safety and it is apparent in the project approach. Before vertical construction could even begin, Benchmark had to perform a series of sub projects to reinforce the structure. Because of that construction, equipment in a highly utilized CAT scan room was disabled for two months while Benchmark opened the walls, installed a cross brace, fire proofed the area, put in lead-lined shielding and then restored the area so the machine could return to service. Similar work was also done in the ultrasound department.
The invasiveness of the retrofit required utilities such as emergency power and gas to be shutdown intermittently while crews rerouted ducts and cabling. This has become a common occurrence, but each individual shutdown is handled with care and coordinated with Lancaster General’s plant engineering staff. Benchmark also coordinates these shutdowns with the nursing directors and departments as they were affected.
The scope of the expansion added to that challenge. The project is not only growing the building vertically by six floors, but also enlarging it to the east and south. The additions must tie into the existing structure, which required Benchmark to remove parts of the exterior, weatherproof the exposed areas and take temporary measures to maintain the integrity of the structure until the new pieces were in place.
“Working within the existing facility to do that retrofit work was definitely one of the bigger challenges,” Flynn explains.
To lessen the impact to the operational parts of the hospital, Benchmark holds daily risk analysis meetings and conducts walkthroughs with hospital personnel to identify areas that may be impacted by the day’s job list. The company also makes on-the-fly adjustments. If a surgeon performing an operation is distracted by construction noise, Benchmark shuts down activities until it is clear to continue. “We remain flexible and considerate of those types of things,” Flynn says.
Benchmark’s flexibility and problem solving skills help it deal with the logistics challenges of construction outside the hospital building as well. Lancaster General is located in the heart of downtown Lancaster and along a major thoroughfare, Lime Street. Because of its connections with the greater transportation system, Lime Street is a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation road, not a city road. To access the project, Benchmark worked with PennDot to coordinate lane shutdowns on Lime Street and shift parking lanes to make room for equipment and materials drop offs. “We had to be creative about how to create a delivery lane for all the traffic coming in and out of the project site,” Flynn says.
Traffic was only one of the logistical factors Benchmark had to consider. The company also took care to protect underground utilities and had to build a tower crane to serve the project. The erect the crane, Benchmark had to shut down a city block for a weekend and use an even larger 500 ton crane to assemble the tower.
Engaging the Entire Team
How Benchmark is delivering the project is helping it to stay within budget. The contract for the hospital expansion calls for it to be built using the construction manager at risk method, which sets a maximum price for the project.
Benchmark is using its own crew wherever possible to keep those costs in check. About 20 Benchmark employees are part of the company’s internal workforce on the project. That group enabled Benchmark to self-perform about 4 percent of the total work, including pouring the concrete foundations and completing the internal retrofit of the existing columns so that the structure could support the necessary weight to expand vertically. “There are inherent risks with some of this work that we only feel comfortable performing ourselves due to the potential impact to patients and staff,” Flynn says.
Still, subcontractors are completing the bulk of the work. All other trade work was bid out to local firms based in central Pennsylvania, many of which were called upon to aid in the design. The subcontractors handling the electrical systems, exterior façade, steel, curtain walls and panelized EIFS walls were brought in as design-assist partners to help facilitate design completion and keep costs in check.
“When we encountered challenges, we were able to work on it as a cohesive team rather than a group of individual entities looking out for their own interests,” Flynn says of the process.
The challenges overcome during Lancaster General’s hospital project demonstrate how Benchmark executes its core values of loyalty, integrity, leadership and balance. The company strives to distinguish itself through customer service by understanding what’s important to the client and incorporating those things into its approach to the project. “We’re trying to streamline everything we can to maximize the owner’s resources and our own,” Flynn says.