HKS Converts Expo Center, Vacant Hospital Buildings and Correctional Facility into COVID-19 Field Hospitals

HKS Converts Expo Center, Vacant Hospital Buildings and Correctional Facility into COVID-19 Field Hospitals


HKS worked with its construction partners to deliver five alternative care sites to help the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) manage anticipated COVID-19 patient surges in regions where the virus threatened to overwhelm local hospital and ICU bed capacity.

The objective: design and build functional, safe and code-compliant medical facilities in 15 days.

HKS also responded to numerous other emergency requests for alternative care sites – more than a dozen conversion projects of convention centers, hotels and prisons around the U.S. The projects pushed HKS designers to spring into emergency response mode, innovating on the fly and adapting quickly with careful attention to quality and safety.

“We’ve delivered millions of square feet of hospitals and health facilities across the globe over the years,” said Jim Whitaker, HKS Principal and Director of Government and Alternative Project Delivery. “We were uniquely positioned to do this kind of work because we have specialists in many building typologies who can quickly collaborate with colleagues across disciplines on building conversion solutions.”

The former U.S. Army officer said HKS’ projects with the Army Corps of Engineers channeled the vibe of combat architecture, engineering and construction to help save lives during a global health crisis.

“It was the AEC community collaborating in an emergency room setting, racing to prepare for the patient,” Whitaker said. “We worked with the USACE and our partners to quickly evaluate the site, roll up our sleeves and quite literally crank out hand sketches, diagrams and verbal design directions onsite.

At the Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown, HKS worked with Clark Construction to prepare a 192-bed field hospital to house and treat inmates who tested positive for the coronavirus but were ambulatory and needed to isolate from the rest of the prison population. The 50,000 square-foot (4,645 square-meter) wing, vacant since 2018, required an infrastructure upgrade because it did not have air conditioning. It was operational within six weeks.

The former U.S. Army officer said HKS’ projects with the Army Corps of Engineers channeled the vibe of combat architecture, engineering and construction to help save lives during a global health crisis.

The state of Michigan and USACE selected the Suburban Collection Showplace, a 250,000 square-foot (23,225 square-meter) expo center in Novi, for its ease of conversion: large flat floors, readily available MEP, built-in life safety features – and a major hospital less than a mile away, which was responsible for the operation of the alternative care site, leveraging its services and staff to care for patients. The retrofitted convention center for treating COVID-19 patients became operational in April 2020 after a 15-day turnaround from start to finish.

At Baptist Integris in Oklahoma City, HKS converted a vacant hospital building into a 110-bed COVID-19 care facility in May 2020. The project had an aggressive 12-day deadline to convert the vacant building into a Battlefield Ready Hospital. Thanks to strong collaboration among the hospital owner, the Corps of Engineers, HKS, Manhattan Construction, and numerous subcontractors, the project was completed seven hours ahead of schedule.

The 1,100-bed floorplan at the expo and convention center space in Novi, Michigan.
The 1,100-bed floorplan at the expo and convention center space in Novi, Michigan.

In April 2020, HKS converted unoccupied floors at the OSU Medical Center in Tulsa to a 125-bed alternative care site. The design team also created a new telehealth floor that was critical to reaching COVID-19 patients who would not otherwise have access to health care services in their surrounding rural communities.

HKS sent two medical planners to the site for two weeks to work with contractors around the clock and pull the project together.

“It was no small feat in what the contractors and subcontractors had to do,” said Senior Medical Planner Gary Hartfield, who traveled to Tulsa for the project. The 14-day turnaround included many modifications, from replacing missing plumbing fixtures to creating negative pressure zones for staff to don and doff their PPE.

Two months later, Hartfield traveled to the Oklahoma Panhandle where 1 in 10 residents in the city of Guymon were diagnosed with COVID-19. In just 12 days, HKS converted a small community hospital wing into an eight-bed COVID-19 care facility to bring much-needed medical help to the COVID-19 hotspot.

Whitaker said HKS’ rapid, round-the-clock response effort leveraged the firm’s deep design experience in medical planning, code compliance, life safety, ADA accessibility and more to quickly embed with USACE and trade contractors.

“HKS is uniquely positioned because we have specialists in many building types, including health, public assembly venues, hospitality and education,” Whitaker said. “We’re able to quickly collaborate internally with our cross-discipline teams and develop plans for alternative building conversion solutions.”