From Expo Center to COVID-19 Field Hospital in 15 Days: How We Did It

Over the last month, HKS has been working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on rapid-fire alternative care site projects to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic – one in the Detroit suburb of Novi, Michigan and one at a correctional facility in Hagerstown, Maryland.

Anyone in our line of work will tell you that architects are a thoughtful and methodical bunch. We adhere to deadlines like any profession, but designing and delivering buildings that ensure the safety and wellbeing of its occupants equates to high design standards and code compliance – these things take time.

But what if you don’t have the time, and saving lives is the immediate goal? That’s the reality we faced on the retrofit of the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi. Here’s how we turned a public exposition center into a temporary COVID-19 field hospital in about two weeks.

The 250-bed field hospital opened to patients on April 24, 2020. 

Alternative Care Site Selection: Why Michigan?

Federal, state and local governments and public health agencies are monitoring the spread of Coronavirus and assessing hospital surge capacity around the country. Michigan is considered a hot spot, currently standing at fifth in the nation in Coronavirus cases. Wayne County, home to Detroit, is 10th in the nation in total infections.

Close to Home

The HKS Detroit office and most of the employees who worked on this project all live within a five mile radius of the site. The speed, dedication and round-the-clock commitment to completing this project on time means a great deal to the team personally: this is our home and we care deeply about our communities and neighbors.

The state of Michigan and USACE selected the Suburban Collection Showplace expo center in Novi for its ease of conversion: large flat floors, built-in life safety features with multiple exits and fire extinguishers and proximity to Ascension Providence Hospital – Novi Campus, which is less than a mile away. Ascension Health is responsible for the operation of the field hospital, leveraging its services to care for patients at the alternative care site.

The proximity of the HKS Detroit office and its employees to the project site

The Process 

HKS received a baseline plan and spec book from the USACE to guide the design. We worked around the clock with our partners from the Gilbane Building Company  to make adjustments specific to the site.

The project began as an 1,100 bed facility with a Level 2+ patient treatment section, which would require a negative pressure unit build-out. Given the fluid nature of responding to this virus, the scope scaled back to 250 beds and no Level 2+ units required.

Our second-floor “office” at the expo center, with HKS’ local project leads (from left to right) Vince Czarnowski, senior construction administrator; John Avdoulos, principal in charge/project manager; and Eric Messing, senior project architect on site on Saturday, April 11, 2020.
At 8:30 each morning, the HKS and Gilbane crew gathered for a “Stand Up” meeting to stretch their legs and outline the day’s tasks while following the CDC’s six-foot social distancing guidelines.

From Hand Sketches to Revit in Two Days

Our ramp-up process evolved rapidly. On Day 2, we had hand sketches transferred into BlueBeam. By Day 4, we had our Revit model uploaded and functional on the Cloud, which was a huge win – it streamlined the process immensely.

Day 3

The team begins to mark up the floor that will soon house the pharmacy. The alternative care site includes 10 x 10-foot patient stations, 10 x 20-foot nursing stations, and donning and doffing areas that are critical to protecting the health of caregivers.

Day 5

Framing begins on the patient stations. The utilities run entirely on the floor, and the plumbing lines run overhead.

Day 8

Our alternative care site is starting to look like one: with framing, utility lines and partitioning in place, the crew begins curtain and room number installation.

Day 9

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer makes a site visit.

A typical hand washing station and staging of an ADA-compliant pre-fab patient shower.

Patient Area

Day 10

This area includes spaces for staff to doff personal protective equipment, changing areas, handwashing sinks and showers.

Day 11

Nearing completion on the Nursing Station corridor and patient showering area.

Lessons Learned & Take-Aways

One of the key take-aways we experienced: the situation is so fluid – be ready to change the design and program on the fly, perhaps 3-4 times. We found ourselves rethinking the location of some functional areas, which may not be supported by the infrastructure and what you’re trying to achieve. Problem-solving on the spot requires speed and great team dynamics.

  • Establish full-team daily huddles with the contractor to address requests, issues and changes in real-time.
  • BIM 360 model streamlines information sharing among the project partners.
  • Have additional staff on standby, ready to step up quickly and help out as needed.
  • Boots on the ground/on-site staff needs to have a Construction Administration background and Revit skills.
  • An experienced Project Architect must be involved in code analysis, documentation and troubleshooting.
  • An experienced Medical Planner must be involved, especially early in the process, to help solve space utilization issues that naturally crop up at the beginning.

One of the key take-aways we experienced: the situation is so fluid—be ready to change the design and program on the fly, perhaps 3-4 times. Problem-solving and finding solutions on the spot require speed and great team dynamics.