Earlier this month, I got a good reminder of what this industry is capable of achieving during a session at the ASHE PDC Summit in Phoenix. And I think there are a lot of attendees who would join me in saying so after listening to the session “Innovative, Collaborative Project Delivery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.”

The Walter Reed project continues to be recognized by construction organizations, such as the Alliant Build America Merit Award in the Design-Build category given just days ago by the Associated General Contractors of America, and it’s easy to see why.

It was a feat, not only in the design-build team delivering a monster of a facility six weeks early, but doing so through the successful collaboration of all team members.

In addition, the hospital also earned LEED Gold status, and after its completion in September 2011 was named “Project of the Year” by the United States Green Building Council National Capital Region Chapter.

Tie all of this into the usual administrative and political complications any project faces as well as a good dash of congressional oversight, and Walter Reed serves as an example of the extremes to which a healthcare facility project can run.

On hand at ASHE PDC to discuss the design and building process were Andrew Gutberlet, PE, LEED AP, deputy public works officer, Public Works Department of Washington Naval Facilities Engineering Command; Tim Stroud, project executive, Clark Construction Group LLC; and David “Ollie” Oliveria, deputy chief of staff for facilities, Navy Medicine National Capital Area.

The $826 million project included approximately 750,000 square feet of new construction, 450,000 square feet of renovations, and infrastructure improvements (Read more in the March issue of HEALTHCARE DESIGN). The team included Clark/Balfour Beatty, A Joint Venture, and HKS Architects, Wingler Sharp, and Hartman-Cox Architects.


Oliveria spent some time familiarizing the audience with the phased approach of the project, which focused on such imperatives as maintaining patient and staff safety; preserving residency and training programs; maintaining Joint Commission certification; and delivering healthcare to our nation’s leaders.

As the program was finalized and then subsequently tweaked, the challenge soon became making all of the pieces fit. And, of course, there was the schedule which gave the team a final deadline of Sept. 15, 2011, for the facility to be functional.

“There was no more time,” Gutberlet says.

Another huge component was also the fact that a large number of renovations were done in addition to the new construction. Gutberlet says a quarter of the renovations were completed concurrently with new construction in the first two years of the project, with three-quarters completed in the last seven months of construction. Of the renovations, one-third were done while in operation.

“We had as many contractors in the building as patients,” he says.

One example of how careful the team had to be was related by Stroud, who described the renovation of 19 operating rooms to create 17 larger ORs, with the addition of two new roof-mounted mechanical penthouses, completed while the original OR was fully active.

And it was the collaboration of all those team members that Gutberlet says was imperative to achieve a project of this scale. “You have to form a team and you have to empower it at the lowest level you can,” he says, offering the example of an intern who was given the task of renovating 100 med/surg suites.

Team members were fully integrated and unified by the project mission, with peer-to-peer communication a key along with leadership at all levels.

Other ways the complexity and scope of the project were managed included:

  • Dividing the project into pieces within new construction and renovation;
  • Each piece was tied into the design package; and
  • Each design package had its own team.

Employees were involved in the process as well, Stroud says, through everything from notification of a total of 2,000 utility outages to education and training on the new space. There was a focus on thinking about existing conditions as well as changes, and integrating them all.

There are a ton of lessons here to be learned, and, frankly, I could have listened to this team speak for hours about everything they were able to accomplish. I hope some of these takeaways help you on your projects.

Please email me with any stories you have to share, as well.