Kraus-Anderson – FirstLight Health System

Kraus AndersonKraus-Anderson is overseeing the expansion and modernization of FirstLight Health System in Mora, Minn.

By Tim O’Connor

Successful outcomes for hospital patients require responsive care and restful conditions. The ongoing expansion for FirstLight Health System seeks to improve the former while being conscious of the latter.

When undertaking a construction project at an active hospital, limiting interruptions to patient care is paramount. That is why Kraus-Anderson Construction Co., the construction manager for the FirstLight expansion, has taken extensive measures to ensure everyone at the hospital is aware of daily construction activities.Kraus Anderson info box

Kraus-Anderson regularly meets with the hospital’s marketing team, department managers and facilities’ staff to discuss the upcoming schedule and how to mitigate construction risks to ongoing hospital operations and patient care. Kraus-Anderson and FirstLight even brought in a third-party company to monitor vibrations resulting from construction work to ensure there weren’t any interference with the hospital’s imaging equipment and surgery schedules.

It’s not enough to have a strong collaborative process, it must start early to get the full benefit. DSGW, the architect for this project began working with FirstLight more than two years before breaking ground in July 2017. “There were many revisions and people involved, so when we did break ground it would be a concise plan without a lot of change-orders,” says Kimberly Tepley, director of marketing for FirstLight. “Other considerations taken into account were employee and patient safety, and with the exponential growth FirstLight has experienced in the past 10 years, planning was extremely important to meet the needs of our communities and staff,” comments Teri Heggernes, board chair, FirstLight Health System.

Total Reorganization

The expansion primarily consists of two additions to the existing hospital building, located on the northeast and southwest corners of the structure. It will add roughly 71,000 square feet of space to the hospital campus – bringing the hospital’s total footprint to 195,000 square feet. Due to the FirstLight’s Critical Access designation, the project will not increase the hospital’s bed count, but it will give patients more privacy. Current hospital rooms have double beds, but with the new addition, it will have 23 single-person inpatient and birthing rooms. The expansion is aimed at elevating the hospital’s services, modernizing its operations and increasing its security.

The expansion project is being built in four major phases. The first is the two-story southwest addition, which will include new inpatient and birthing rooms, an inpatient pharmacy, rehabilitation space with a therapy pool and public dining. The second will relocate the existing emergency department and helipad to the new two-story northeast addition, which will also include a new employee fitness center. The third phase will have renovations to the following departments: lab, imaging, chemotherapy and infusion, registration, materials management and information technology. This phase will also include the remodel of the main entry to connect the two additions and create one centralized entrance. Finally, the last phase of the project will integrate the campuses, as a nearby eye clinic will be relocated, and it will reconfigure the parking lots to add more spaces and allow for smoother patient delivery. And the community pharmacy will open.

The project is on schedule to finish by April 2019, although individual phases may come online earlier. “Each addition will be their own grand opening,” Project Manager Jessica Masterson says. There are 22 different moves scheduled over the course of this project.

The relocation of several departments to other parts of the campus allows FirstLight to achieve several goals. Moving the emergency department and helipad to the north end of the campus frees up space for the new pharmacy and eye clinic while also allowing for more parking and better access to the new centralized entrance. The on-site pharmacy will add convenience for patients leaving the hospital who otherwise would need to travel to pick up prescriptions. “That’s the last thing you want to do when you’re sick,” notes Mark Vizenor, facility operations manager and owner’s rep for FirstLight. “You just want to go home.”

Creating a new area for the birthing center will allow older rooms to be converted into private spaces for patients with receiving chemotherapy or infusions. Further, the lower level of the southwest addition will consolidate physical therapy, occupational speech therapy and cardiovascular services into one area, enabling the hospital to better share resources between its rehabilitation services.

One of the most visible changes will be the construction of a main entrance into the building. The hospital’s current layout has three entrances, which makes it difficult to control the movement of people in and out of the building, creating the potential for a serious security issues in the event of a hospital lockdown. The expansion will reduce the number of entry points to one primary entrance and one after-hours entrance, enhancing safety for everyone within the building. An overhead canopy will also make it easier to drop-off patients in inclement weather.

“We’re basically touching every department in the organization except for surgery and the business office,” Vizenor says.

Staying On Schedule

By early January, Kraus Anderson had already enclosed the southwest addition and were ramping up work on the interior portion of the expansion. “The southwest addition is really the first domino to fall,” Project Manager Mike Stark says. “It allows us to move existing departments into new spaces allowing for the other areas to be renovated.” The shell of the northeast addition – which includes the new emergency department – is currently being constructed and is not expected to finish until fall 2018.

In Minnesota, the winter months are generally a slower time for construction, but if Krause Anderson wants to hit its expected completion date, then daily operations will need to continue to move ahead as needed. To keep things moving, the construction manager and design team had to come up with solutions to overcome the challenges of wintry weather. Some materials, such as fireproofing, have temperature restrictions and cannot normally be applied in cold weather conditions. The project is instead using a fireproof type board allowing fireproofing installation to proceed, as well as constructing heated enclosures for workers to apply air barrier and exterior finishes.

Even before winter struck, Kraus-Anderson and FirstLight were already dealing with challenging weather conditions. In October, a heavy storm dropped five inches of rain on Mora, creating mucky conditions around the site and putting weeks of building progress at risk while crews waited for the soil to dry. The cost of a potential delay was too great, so dry soil was trucked in meet the compaction requirements needed for work to continue.

Kraus-Anderson and FirstLight were able to quickly implement these solutions because of the open channels of communication they have set up with the project’s subcontractors. “Every time we do a large project like this it reinforces the importance of communication,” Stark says.

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