January 20, 2019

Back In New Milford

When the aging, maxed-to-capacity Emergency Department at New Milford Hospital needed a bigger, high-tech facility, hospital administration turned to O&G once again – and took delivery nearly two months ahead of schedule

Though rural and suburban, New Milford is Connecticut’s largest municipality. It defines itself as a “growth-oriented” community. The demands to keep that community healthy put stress upon the aging Emergency Department at New Milford Hospital whose catchment area extends beyond New Milford itself into surrounding towns and even nearby New York State. The time had come for the current space to be replaced and a plan for a new facility that could effectively deliver emergency care was developed. So extensive were the upgrades needed to meet the demands of the community that a renovation would not suffice. An entirely new facility was needed.

The vision called for the construction of a 12,000SF, single-story structure into which the department, renamed the Arnhold Emergency Department, would be relocated. it would have 14 patient treatment rooms, a dedicated isolation room, a critical care room, behavioral care rooms, obstetric and pediatric examination rooms, triage and fast-track exam rooms, a waiting room and clinician/nurses’ workstations. All new technology would be installed. Phase 3, the final phase of the project, would renovate a section of the old ED space, adjoining the new building, for use as the department’s administrative space and staff offices, on-call rooms and staff bathrooms.

As it had in the past, the hospital chose O&G to develop the project. O&G’s association with New Milford Hospital has been long and productive. Since 1995 O&G teams have led building projects of all sizes, from renovating the hospital’s main lobby entrance and constructing a medical office building to renovating nurses’ stations and various clinical departments.

At the helm of this latest collaboration was Project Manager Carrie Riera. She is versatile, with a degree in construction management and work experience in property management, architectural construction administration and as an owner’s rep at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts. She also served as O&G’s Project Manager at Yale-New Haven Hospital Medical Center in North Haven. Riera loves problem solving.

For some, she will tell you, her management style takes getting used to. She prowls the job site, getting herself intimately involved with details. She sits at a desk only when she must.

Preconstruction work began in June 2013. Bruce Gelbar and Greg McWhirter handled the estimating, collaborating with Riera to meet the client’s budget. Over the next several months a lot of groundwork was established – not just planning and scheduling the project but interpersonally. Riera set the tone for how the job would run: it would be pro-active and assertive. In October the job went out to bid; some disciplines were redefined and rebid. By January 2014 a team was in place and, through copious value engineering and creative reworking, the reforged budget was brought close to the original.

Midway through the project  a  new  alliance on the  client  side  was  announced.  It would merge New Milford Hospital with Norwalk Hospital, Danbury Hospital and various smaller affiliates into The Western Connecticut  Health  Network.  It  made  for  a different dynamic in the regular project status meetings, with three cost-conscious representatives  from  Danbury Hospital now attending. “They would be at every meeting to express their concern that the job stay on budget,” Riera says. “About six  months  into  it  the  financials were showing  that  we  were  stewarding  the money well.” The trio started attending less often as their concern evaporated. She jokes, “Now it’s to the point where I can’t get a meeting with them!” The Network had come to appreciate O&G’s advocacy and close management of their project.

Mike Edwards is the project’s superintendent, a 35-year  construction  veteran who has been with O&G since 2013. “About three-quarters through the project we were a good two months ahead of schedule.” At that juncture, he also  points  out,  virtually  none of the project contingency funds had been spent. Only client-directed changes have been paid for out of  that pool since then. Close  to $200,000 is being returned to the  hospital.

Edwards gives a large chunk of credit for the smooth flow to diligent “what-if ” planning. “When I start thinking about a job the worst- case scenarios are in my mind, the ‘what-ifs.’   I want to find them and nip any issues in the bud.” He and Riera were thorough in the scope review. They filtered everything through their experience, interviewing subcontractors to be sure no details were overlooked. “The scope was covered really well in buyout,” he says. “We didn’t miss anything or double-up anywhere.”

Phase 1 kicked off with sitework and the demolition  of  interior  space simultaneously. The winter of 2014 was a favorable one. Storms came but the snows melted quickly. It made it possible for big gains in excavation and concrete work. Nearly four weeks were shaved off the schedule, which happened to be a fortunate bumper when significant delays were encountered with steel erection that set the job back onto the original schedule. But the subcontractors pushed ahead. By the fall crews had gotten the space enclosed and the rooftop heating system installed so that the work area was heated. By December of 2014, thanks to aggressive summer work, there was enough room in the schedule that crews could comfortably take the holidays off.

“We had a really good group of subs,” says Riera. “They were interested in following what we were trying to do. I never had a sub come to the table and complain, ‘You’re accelerating our schedule by two weeks.’ Everyone was on board. If I said ‘I need you to start coming in,’ they came.” Guerrera Construction was the site work subcontractor. “They kept pushing us, actually, making sure we stuck to schedule. They  were  instrumental.  Tristar   handled the concrete. They were aggressive and met our schedule. Kennedy Electric was a great electrician, no claims, no squawking. We had seven electricians for the duration. Modern Mechanical did a great job, too. They met the anticipated mechanical needs so we had heat before the cold weather came.”

When Riera requested four sheetrockers, she got five. When she needed four painters she got six. “We always had everyone we needed when we needed them,” she says.

Riera also raves about the way the submittal phase played out. All subcontractors expedited their submittals with thorough, substantiated paperwork that often made quick approvals possible.

Riera was insistent on reining in RFIs (requests for information). Issues were resolved on site whenever possible, with Riera, Edwards and subs looking for commonsense solutions. “The subs are the experts in their fields. They’re the best people to answer the questions. If a sub comes to me asking how to we want them to do something, I’d ask them, ‘What makes the most sense?’” That approach kept the number of RFIs to a manageable minimum.  Barraging  the  architect   with RFIs is just not effective. “At the end of the day that just delays the project,” she says. Having been a Construction Administrator herself (interestingly, for The S/L/A/M Collaborative, the architect that designed the ED project) she knows of what she speaks.

This past October thru December, a crew from the Special Projects Division (Project Manager Nelson Reis, Superintendent Mike Gath and Project Executive John Humes) converted various spaces adjacent to the new ED into a larger, more appealing lobby. At one point Riera’s team and the Special Projects team jointly developed common space.

New Milford Hospital’s Administrative Director, Damon deChamplain, was pleased with how competently the construction phase unfolded. “The value engineering we did in the beginning got us a bit off schedule but that time was made up throughout the project. O&G’s  construction   management  team and the NMH team kept the project pretty much ahead of schedule. Everyone was very professional. They did an outstanding job complying with our infectious control procedures to keep our patients,  staff and visitors safe during construction, which included work in some very tight and confined quarters.”

Hospital Facilities Director Charlie Geyer calls the last few months of the job complicated in the sense that construction was occuring in the middle of a working hospital. “O&G was able to isolate the noise very well and to maintain our contamination protocols. They also did that for the lobby and cafe project, which came out beautifully.  We’re finishing ahead of schedule as well and should get our C.O. by the end of March. We’re very pleased with the performance.”

With construction of the new Arnhold Emergency Department having wrapped in mid-March the only challenge of significance is remaining is the formal switchover when the new ED’s utilities are changed over from the old and the new department comes on line. The goal is transferring a labyrinth of electrical, medical gas, security, IT and phone systems as seamlessly as possible to minimize impact on patient care. It will be done when the hospital dictates, based on their historical records of times of least demand. That will be sometime in April or May, accommodating the May 8 ribbon cutting. Riera is allowing three days.

Given the cohesiveness of her team and her own drive to always go faster, expect the tie-in to finish ahead of schedule, just like the rest of the project.

cardiac rehab

gift shop and lounge


Cafeteria and lounge

TOP TO BOTTOM Cardiac rehabilitation facility built in Phase 1; view across the new lobby built by O&G’s Special Projects Group to the new cafe; Riera and Edwards in the new ED entrance and admitting area; new gift shop on the other side of the new lobby