Building For Health: The Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre

Now at the halfway point of its 2008 deadline, the Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre project is progressing well, with the help of subcontractor and SMACNA member Apollo Sheet Metal.

Driving down the Trans-Canada Highway on the outskirts of Abbotsford, BC, an angular, glinting structure catches the eye of passersby, as does the sign that big green sign that reads: Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre: Opening Summer 2008.

Although still under construction, the building stands proudly like a beacon of hope for the often-struggling health care system in BC, specifically in the Fraser Valley—where the aging MSA Hospital in Abbotsford can no longer meet the needs of the community’s population of more than 150,000, and the nearby Mission Memorial Hospital has faced severe service cuts. In fact, the provincial government has recognized that the region has been facing a health care services shortfall since 1986.
Today, 20 years later, the new state-of-the-art, 300-bed, 60,000-square-foot hospital is under construction. Once complete, it will replace the three-times smaller MSA hospital, and will provide enhanced services for 330,000 Fraser Valley residents, BC’s fastest growing population. The hospital will bring new health care services to the region, such as MRI services, general surgery, nuclear medicine, a full renal dialysis program, specialized obstetrics, pediatric services and more.

The hospital will also integrate a new cancer treatment centre operated by the BC Cancer Agency. Residents in the Fraser Valley currently have to drive to Surrey and Vancouver to access care such as radiation therapy, chemotherapy, surgical oncology, clinical trials, palliative care and more.

It’s an ambitious project, no doubt, with an estimated capital cost of $355 million, and a tightly packed fouryear timeline—construction began in December 2004, and must be complete by spring 2008, so the facility can be up and running by summer. But the construction is actually proceeding quickly, says Walter Hiller, president and chief project officer, Abbotsford Hospital and Cancer Centre Inc.

It has to. This is the first hospital built in B.C. as a private– public partnership (P3) project managed by Partnerships BC. It’s a business model that specifies performance-based payments to the private sector contractors; in other words, they receive payment only when construction is completed— a strong incentive to finish by the deadline. It’s estimated that by using this partnership model instead of the often overrun traditional public sector procurement model, it will save taxpayers $39 million on the project.

According to Partnerships BC CEO Larry Blain, “Public– private partnerships are all about transferring risks such as construction budget and schedule to the private sector to get the most benefits from project innovation.”

So who are all the partners involved? On the public sector side, there is the Ministry of Health, Fraser Health Authority, Provincial Health Services Authority, BC Cancer Agency, Fraser Valley Regional Hospital District and Partnerships BC.
On the private side, Access Health Abbotsford, a team of companies, is responsible for the design, construction, financing and maintenance of the project. Paul Dunstan, managing director of Access Health Abbotsford, has called it “the largest construction project Abbotsford has ever had.”

Some of the companies involved include MCM/Silver Thomas Hanley (design) and PCL Constructors Westcoast (construction), one of North America’s most prolific health care construction providers. In Canada, PCL is building, or “We deal with 40 user groups and attend numerous user group meetings to ensure the design can satisfy the needs of each group and to meet medical functionality for the different types of areas in the hospital, such as the cancer centre, pediatrics, lab, pharmacy and so forth,” says Tsang.

Herb Mussbacher, Lockerbie & Hole construction manager, says, “proceeding with construction of the building while the drawings are still in the design stage … can be very challenging.” But he adds that working with quality subcontractors like Apollo Sheet Metal makes things easier. “Apollo’s work is very professional and it’s always on time, even though a lot of their ductwork is on the roof on this project, which is unusual and more challenging.”

Apollo Sheet Metal’s Miles Heck, construction manager, and Terry Johnson, project manager, who have been on site since October 2005, appreciate having input into the design process. “We’ve been involved with design from day one. Normally, we don’t have that,” says Heck. “It has its challenges, of course; it’s a constant flowing design and construction continues as it develops.” But their participation at the design level helps them adapt their work for different areas of the hospital that may have special needs. “For example, the MRI and operating rooms have a different calibre of system, requiring HEPA filters and specialized ducting,” explains Johnson.

Overall, air quality in a hospital environment is very important for infection control issues, so the ventilation systems Apollo is installing are a pivotal part of the project.

“The hospital does have great concern for quality and ensuring cleanliness,” says Heck. “Everything we build has to be up to SMACNA standards.” Being a part of the sheet metal association has been beneficial for maintaining building standards, providing the latest information and latest leading-edge technology for this project, Heck adds. Apollo’s experience working on other B.C. hospitals, like St. Paul’s Hospital, Royal Columbian and Lion’s Gate also can’t hurt.

“Apollo has to ensure that no airborne contaminants go from one area of the hospital to another. And on the ducting, they do an infection spray, so it’s superbly clean,” adds Mussbacher.

Apollo manufactures the ventilation systems at their Coquitlam shop, about 45 minutes away from the site. “We’re talking a million pounds of sheet metal being installed on this project,” says Heck. “And everything is custom-made.”

It’s a lot of hard work, with challenging schedules, adds Heck.

The way the job is designed, the deadline must be met.”

So how do all the different trades ensure they work efficiently and meet their targets without stomping on each other’s steeltoed boots?

“The building is broken up into quads,” Heck explains. “We’re working in four quads simultaneously.”

Johnson adds: “We worked it out so there is just a few from each trade in each quad, about 40 men in one area.” “The biggest thing is that it’s a team effort,” says Heck. “We have weekly trade meetings and daily site meetings with all the trades. We go over the day’s events and any problems that arise between the trades, such as a material conflict.”

Tsang of PCL agrees. While a traditional model might pit trades against each other in an adversarial fashion as they protect their “territory,” the P3 model promotes a cooperative approach. “If we took a competitive approach, the job would never get done,” says Tsang.

Of course, safety is a huge concern for every member of the family. Apollo’s Heck says, “We as a subcontractor have very stringent employee safety standards, especially because there are more and more apprentices these days.”

Apollo has roughly 40 employees on site, but with industry labour shortages in B.C., staffing can be a challenge. Heck jokes that anyone who calls him for a job, gets hired. They then train such first-year apprentices to work toward becoming journeymen.

There’s still lots of work for Apollo and the other trades to be done by 2008, but the project is already getting noticed for its innovative approach. It won the Award of Merit, in the project financing category, at the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships 2005 National Awards for Innovation and Excellence. It was the second award for the Abbotsford hospital; it also received kudos from Project Finance Magazine, which named the project the North American PPP Deal of the Year, 2005.
Tsang knows why the project model works, “All the partners are really like a big family with the same goal.”

And that goal can be summed up as “Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre: Opening Summer 2008.”

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2006 issue of Sheet Metal Journal

By: Margaret Jetelina