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Journey Construction Reaches New Heights with Eye-Catching Avera Project

Nov 26, 2019 08:15AM
By Alex Strauss

To the untrained eye, the first buildings on the new Avera on Louise Health Campus in Sioux Falls, which opened in October, appear to have been built only once. 

But the experts at Journey Construction, whose job it was to transform an empty lot into the eye-catching hospital and clinic that stands there now, know otherwise.

The Power of Virtual Modelling

Long before the first piece of heavy equipment rolled onto the site, the entire project, including every electrical outlet, light switch, air duct or sheet of glass, was “built” digitally by Journey’s virtual design team. With augmented reality, builders can often find and correct potential problems before they slow down construction or throw off the complex schedule.

“Preplanning is 80 percent of getting the work done on time,” says Senior Project Manager Aaron Eich. “When you have the experience and a really well thought out plan, your time can be spent on addressing unknowns and creating the best possible solutions.”

In this case, virtual modeling pointed up a potentially expensive issue with the Avera Specialty Hospital early on. 

The planned height of the five-story building would have put it in the “high rise” category, necessitating at least a half-million dollar’s worth of additional code requirements. Thanks to detailed virtual modeling, the team was able to figure out how to condense the space between floors to take the needed three feet out of the height, without compromising interior space. 

The Challenge of Scheduling

One of the biggest challenges in constructing healthcare facilities like those on the Avera on Louise campus is the need to accommodate medical equipment that is not yet on site. Senior Superintendent Eric Bender says this is where it is critical to strike a balance between the need to hold out for the latest technology, and the need to nail down exact construction specs.

“In medicine, they always want to wait for the very newest model, so they wait as long as possible to make decisions on equipment,” says Bender. “But in construction, you need to get that information in a timely manner to keep the project moving along. The key is to find that sweet spot that works for everyone.”  

The first Avera on Louise buildings are the five-story Avera Specialty Hospital and the three-story Avera Medical Group building, comprising a total of 260,000 square feet. The buildings are designed in Avera’s signature Prairie Wind theme and include 1.5 aces of glass along the exterior. The sheer size, scope, and complexity of the project meant there were likely to be scheduling challenges with local contractors.

“Because of the size, we had to give some of these local companies a heads up early on so they would be prepared to handle the workload,” says Bender. “For some companies, this project would consume their entire year.”

The Technology and The Team

One of the most important components in the success of the first two Avera on Louise buildings was the long-standing working relationship between Journey Construction and Avera Health. Darin Hage, Vice President of Journey Construction, Building Division, says that relationship was key to completing a project he calls a “billboard” for Journey smoothly, within the budget, and on schedule. 

“That set the stage from the beginning,” says Hage. “We know that we have the ability to make decisions with them because of our past experiences. They allowed us to make recommendations, such as procuring the structural steel even before the design was done, so that we could make the schedule happen.”

Hage says the projected marked several “firsts” for Journey. In addition to delving deeper into virtual design, they expanded their use of Lean construction principles with novel forms of batching and phasing for better workflow. The project also marked the first time Journey used drones to map the site and keep an eye on progress. 

But even with all the new technology and techniques in place, Hage says the real success of the project came from the people involved and their can-do attitude. 

“On this particular project, we were able to accomplish so many things with that team,” says Hage. “It is amazing to see how everyone worked together on what was really a very complex large scale building without any major bumps or hiccups. If there were challenges or issues, the whole team was ready to come to the table to work through those. It was a culture built on that site.”