Boston Medical Center Rapidly Reopens Medical Building for Pandemic Care

In three weeks, WSP USA upgraded an unoccupied medical building into a facility that is providing homeless Boston citizens with a place for care and quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Boston Medical Center’s Newton Pavilion, unused for nearly two years, was scheduled to remain closed for at least three more years to accommodate a major renovation project. Those plans changed and escalated in March following the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.

The City of Boston, in conjunction with the State of Massachusetts, requested prompt re-opening of the building as an exclusive COVID-19 treatment and isolation space for the city’s homeless citizens, providing approximately 300 patient beds to accommodate the anticipated patient surge.

WSP USA was serving as the mechanical and electrical engineer for the $200 million Newton Pavilion renovation when the urgent request was made. WSP was part of the team responsible for refitting the building to serve a very specific and critical function for patients recovering from the highly contagious virus, as well as for those in need of isolation from the public.

Initially the expedited schedule called for the team to complete the emergency upgrades in 30 days. However, the rapid acceleration of the pandemic heightened that priority, and the time schedule was compacted to 21 days.

“The initial schedule was daunting; the condensed schedule even more so,” said Daniel Hurley, principal-in-charge for WSP. “Fortunately, our team was fully committed and believed in the project wholeheartedly.”

“There was no hesitation. There was no doubt for a moment what needed to be done,” added Mark Warren, Boston managing director and national operations director for property and buildings at WSP. “Everyone on the team understood the critical importance of meeting this deadline and admirably rose to the challenge.”

Today, Newton Pavilion is a place providing multiple services for the homeless. It provides quarantine for those awaiting test results and are symptomatic of COVID-19. It is a place for anyone confirmed positive with COVID-19, but with mild symptoms that requires isolation but not necessarily hospitalization. It provides isolation for anyone recently treated for COVID-19 and discharged from a hospital, but without a secure place to stay during recovery. For sicker patients, the facility also provides an intensive care unit.

“It provides a safe haven with multiple levels of care while creating a safer environment for the city,” Hurley said.

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©2020 WSP USA

Alex Munsey, commissioning engineer for WSP USA, was one of a dozen WSP employees who collaborated to provide mechanical and electrical engineering support necessary to reactivate the Newton Pavilion building systems.

Facility Re-occupancy

A dozen WSP employees collaborated with the architect, SLAM; and general contractor, Gilbane, to provide mechanical and electrical engineering support necessary to reactivate the building systems for emergency temporary occupancy due to the virus outbreak. For WSP, Fernand Tomaz served as project manager, Tom Bartlett was lead HVAC engineer, Jose Alves was the lead electrical engineer, and Alex Munsey was the commissioning engineer.

From the date the project was green lit, the team – including state officials, the architect, engineers and contractors – was fully committed to taking every step to complete the necessary documents, site evaluation and full installation within the 21-day period.

The process included daily general contractor-design and owner-architect-contractor meetings. Daily site participation, following all needed safety protocols, enabled the team to assist in the controls and balancing of the existing systems to ensure every requirement outlined for the mechanical-electrical narrative was followed.

“To make this work, this was going to take a complete team effort by all parties – state agencies, architects, engineers, contractors and the Boston Medical Center staff,” Hurley said.

Early in the facility re-occupancy program, the team created a plan to identify spaces capable of readily accommodate 302 beds that would be suitable for quarantine and/or isolation.

“Essentially, these had to be rooms that already had existing headwalls,” Hurley said. “We also had to evaluate how far do we needed to go in order to fix the existing MEP/FP (mechanical-electrical-plumbing/fire protection) infrastructure, which had been left dormant for almost two years.”

One example of innovative on-site decision making came when determining the best air handling unit to reuse in order to service specific areas of the facility – a critical consideration to ensure air was cleaned and secured for patents and medical staff when the facility opened.

WSP realigned the overall pressure differentials between occupied and unoccupied spaces by adjusting air handling units and exhaust fans. New parts and filters were installed, tested and balanced for air distribution and exhaust fans providing 100 percent fresh air in all occupied spaces.

Head-end hardware and software was also installed to provide necessary controls. WSP provided a qualified operator for the system to ensure it functioned and was maintained properly.

For the heating and cooling system, WSP confirmed that the steam heating distribution was fully operational, checked valves at converter units and tested all three chillers and pumps to ensure they were fully operational – making repairs wherever necessary.

Before the building was declared operational, WSP and the team left no stone unturned … or unsanitized. Water pipes, sprinkler systems, emergency lights, fire alarms, plumbing systems, sump pumps and IT networks were all among the systems that were installed, cleaned, inspected, tested and approved for facility use before it was opened.

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©2020 WSP USA

All staff working at the site were provided with necessary personal protective equipment and were fully educated on safety policies regarding the pandemic.

Safety Above All

Throughout the entire re-fitting process, one of the team’s biggest concerns was that safety measures were always taken, making sure that everyone was not exposed to the COVID-19 virus and that the expedited nature of the project did not expose workers to any additional site hazards.

“Since the plan required us to have staff on site, I was concerned that I was asking people to potentially put themselves in harm’s way,” Hurley said. “Safety is always a paramount consideration, but we have never seen anything comparable to the scope of what we needed to do for this project.”

All staff scheduled to work at the site were provided with the necessary protective equipment and had been fully educated on WSP safety policies regarding the pandemic.

“We took every precaution to protect our staff and ensure their safety and the safety of the people who are now using the facility,” Warren said. “Everyone knew what they needed to do and followed every safety protocol that was put in place.”

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©2020 WSP USA

Alex Munsey was part of the team that completed the refitting of Boston Medical’s unoccupied Newton Pavilion as a facility for care and quarantine of homeless COVID-19 patient facility.

All Hands on Deck

To stay on target during those three weeks, WSP had staff on the hospital site seven days a week, starting with 7 a.m. virtual project meetings, then heading to the site to work with the contractors for a 12-hour day.

“The great thing about this project was that we had multiple offices involved,” Warren added. “Boston took the lead on the electrical, plumbing/fire protection, HVAC and commissioning aspects, while additional HVAC work was led by Tom Bartlett and Sarah Peters out of WSP’s Richmond, Virginia and Washington D.C. offices. This tremendous team effort in exceptionally challenging circumstances was essential to this project’s success.”

The original renovation plan targets opening the new facility for patient care by 2024. Even with the recent modifications to the building, Hurley said the overall renovation schedule should not be significantly impacted. Schematic design was previously completed, and design development, which was set to begin on June 1, is only expected to be delayed by about two months.

Hurley believes the critical nature of this project reinforced the importance of team work and having all stakeholders be involved in the decision-making process early in the design phase. “Having all hands on deck is even more essential when lives are at stake and it needs to be completed and opened in such a compressed amount of time,” he said.”

Reflecting on the previous month, he said he was grateful that his team had an opportunity to provide engineering services that played a critical role in creating a safer, more secure environment for everyone now using the Newton Pavilion.

“As an immigrant who arrived in Boston over 30 years ago, this was a chance for me to give back to the place that I now call home and where I built my career,” Hurley said.

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