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Plan the Work, Then Work the Plan

By Katie Kuehner-Hebert

floor, slab, demoThe feat of transforming part of an historic hospital more than a century old into the new headquarters for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — ahead of schedule and under budget — has earned the St. Elizabeths Adaptive Reuse Phase 1B Project in Washington, D.C. a 2014 Alliant Build America Award for Building Renovation.

According to Bill Six, who oversaw the project for Grunley Construction Co. Inc., an AGC of Metropolitan Washington D.C. member, the nearly three-year endeavor consisted of the restoration and adaptive reuse of five historic buildings on the St. Elizabeths site, a national historic landmark. The project owner, General Services Administration (GSA), was responsible for the overall development of the site.

“By far, the most unique aspect was the requirement to convert multiple historic buildings, several in deteriorated states, into modern day facilities while maintaining the historic exteriors,” Six says.

Each of the five buildings, spanning from 105 to 157 years old, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The entire campus, which was created by Congress in 1855 as the “Government Hospital for the Insane,” was at that time the “epitome of mid-19th century reform,” created under the urging of Dorothea Lynde Dix, a famed advocate for the mentally ill, and Dr. Charles Henry Nichols, a physician who specialized in the treatment of mental illness. The East Campus still houses a mental health facility and the West Campus was given to the GSA in 2004 to redevelop for multiple agency use.

Grunley’s scope of work included restoration of the dining hall/kitchen, adaptive reuse of the “relief” quarters into a credit union with modern office and conference spaces, construction of an underground gymnasium and design-build of a modular utility plant. The five buildings were spread across 10 acres of land, and no two buildings were alike.

building, interior, progressThe biggest challenges involved the scale of the overall project and the need to coordinate the varying elements of each building, such as the eras of construction, building functionalities, structural modifications, mechanical and electrical needs, different unforeseen conditions, site logistical parameters and schedules, Six says.

“To overcome this, Grunley strategically assigned responsibilities to each person on the jobsite that transcended through each building, to ensure that in every circumstance, our team, the owner and the subcontractors knew who to work with toward issue resolution,” he says.

Grunley performed more than $2 million of the structural and finished carpentry work, mainly within the campus dining hall, which included removing, restoring and re-installing more than 10,000 lineal feet of bead-board from the dining hall’s ceiling and clerestory. Each three-inch-wide piece was individually removed, tagged and re-assembled on the ground in paneled sections to ensure they were reinstalled in the exact same location.

Grunley also performed structural enhancements to the dining hall that included adding new members to the existing king post trusses that matched the existing. Due to their degraded condition, the exterior north and south porches were demolished and new porches, built of structural grade lumber from Oregon, were erected to match the original 1902 construction while conforming to current Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

The project’s masonry subcontractor, Lorton Stone, performed more than $2.6 million of masonry restoration and reconstruction. At Building 31, Atkins Hall, Lorton performed a 100 percent re-point exercise that involved extensive sampling of new and existing mortar to select the appropriate mix that would provide the correct historic lime content, as well as color tint and structural bearing characteristics. Using scaffolding that was erected around the entire building, teams of mason journeymen worked multiple elevations to quickly perform the work ahead of the impending winter. Each step of the precise mortar joint tooling was monitored by preservationists.

Window subcontractor History Wood Windows removed and restored hundreds of windows throughout the project, and the company’s work at Atkins Hall was recognized by the Washington Building Congress’s 2013 Craftsmanship Awards.

building, columnThe building featured 106 ten-over-ten double-hung wood windows that were 134 years old. The small crew of History’s craftsmen stripped the wood frames, epoxied the damaged areas, applied Dutchmen to deteriorated areas, reconstructed mortise pockets, and restored or replaced historic counterweights and other hardware. The sash and trim were similarly restored and re-glazed off-site. Each restored window assembly was caulked and tested to the same water tightness and air infiltration standards used on new casement windows.

Baker DC, the concrete subcontractor, placed 2,700 cubic yards of concrete at Building 48, the new underground gymnasium, in a period of 18 weeks. As a result of the winter weather, Baker DC, an AGCof Metropolitan Washington D.C. member, worked extended hours and weekends, and three separate areas were worked simultaneously by two mobile cranes. Architectural walls were placed in single pour placements of 39 feet high. Most importantly, due to site limitations, all equipment and materials were staged in and moved through a single point of entry.

The site on the west side of Building 49 was excavated roughly 30 feet to make way for the new gymnasium in Building 48. The design of Building 49 required the team to devise “a somewhat creative and unconventional method of construction,” Six says.

Building 49 was constructed within a large excavation site held in place by sheeting and shoring and secant piles, and the building roof was topped “with an elaborate intensive green roof system that renders the look and feel of a large open green space.”

The problem was the fill necessary between the top of the building’s roof deck and grass-covered green area varied in thickness between two feet up to 18 feet, and using standard backfill practices for this intricate system could yield a significant prohibitive load to the building structure, he says. It would have also been cost-prohibitive to use standard roofing insulation.

Grunley opted to use geo-foam roof blocks as a compromise between both methodologies. The geo-foam was then topped with one to two feet of lightweight granular soil mix, with grass planted on top of the soil to complete the green roof construction. The 10,000 square feet of intensive green roof system was among the project’s numerous environmentally friendly elements, including the installation of two photovoltaic systems and a solar hot-water heating system.

Change management also presented a challenge for the project, which included one added modular utility plant; one complete re-design of a building; two deleted buildings; a significant number of unforeseen conditions; and 220 owner-generated scope and price requests. However, construction activities at St. Elizabeths were all completed either on time or ahead of schedule, while absorbing $22 million in additional change order work.

Overall, the project was completed under budget, six weeks early, without any claims or damages “by having the right team with the proper can-do attitude,” Six says.

“Our philosophy toward successful project management is to plan the work, then work the plan,’” he says. “Our team, led by Brian Delauter, senior superintendent, and many of the subcontractor foremen, dedicated themselves to doing the right thing to keep the project moving forward. Brian’s dedication was paramount to the project’s success. His hard work, long hours and never-ending determination to make the completion date was something the team would rally around. He would never push anyone to work harder than he, himself, was willing to work.”

The Alliant Build America Awards, which are announced each year at the association’s annual convention, are widely considered to be the country’s most prestigious recognition of construction accomplishments.