DALLAS (AP) – On the fifth floor of the new Parkland Memorial Hospital, a row of shiny bathrooms sits waiting for the first patients who will occupy the surgical intensive care unit.
“They’ve got everything but the toilet paper,” remarked David Graham, the top construction official, as he gave a tour last week of the less-than-half-finished hospital.
The fully tiled bathrooms offered a startling contrast to the piles of dust and construction materials scattered throughout patient rooms that still need walls and ceilings.
The bathrooms also represent a construction breakthrough for Dallas, considering they are fully assembled in a warehouse near Maple Avenue and trucked two blocks to the hospital construction site. They arrive with all fixtures in place and the water, electrical, heat and air conditioning lines that just need to be hooked up.
By February, work crews expect to have built about 750 free-standing bathrooms — a rate of four per day. City inspectors show up almost daily to make certain the rooms comply with building codes throughout the process.
“We had to convince the city to let us do it this way,” said Graham, project manager for BARA, a partnership of four companies building the $1.3 billion county hospital.
Assembling the bathrooms away from the messy construction site, where much of the new building is still exposed to the weather, assures a higher quality finish and a safer environment for workers, he said.
“We didn’t do it for the cost savings,” said Lou Saksen, Parkland’s senior vice president over new development. “There’s no question we’re saving money, but how you quantify it is difficult. It will save us time, and time is money.”
About 200 additional bathrooms will be built on site, a process that is strung out over six weeks for each unit, starting with hauling the unassembled components into the hospital and then staggering the work schedule for each trade group.
Instead of six weeks, it takes just eight days to finish an identical bathroom off site and haul into the 17-story building.
“Some people think it’s a new trend, but we aren’t the first ones to do it,” Graham said. “It is common practice in England to build rooms like this off site.”
BARA even sent a crew to England in 2010 to see how the bathrooms for the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham were being assembled at an off-site location. The hospital, about the same size as Parkland, opened later that year.
“We’re building a different product to different standards,” Graham said of the Parkland bathrooms. “But we did see how they moved them. And we had a guy come over here afterward to check us out.”
Clay Calhoun, BARA’s operations director over the bathroom assembly line, said it took about 90 days of trial and error to figure out how to make and deliver a 10-foot-by-10-foot bathroom without cracking the tile and grout en route.
“We were inventing the process as we went along,” he said.
“To us, it was a no-brainer to do it this way,” said Sam Moses, BARA’s construction superintendent. “You have guys working at a waist-high level instead of on a ladder 16 feet in the air. It’s so much safer this way.”
Although the bathroom construction setup was new for Dallas, it did not require a special permit from the city, said David Session, Dallas’ chief building inspector.
After reviewing BARA’s plan, the city decided to treat the room assembly as part of the hospital construction site since BARA was doing all the work and was using long-accepted building standards, he added.
“There’s a little peculiarity in the setup,” Session conceded. “But we made sure we’re not skirting state law that says the construction has to be built on site.”
Nobody is quite certain what to call this traveling-bathroom-construction-process.
Session said the Parkland construction method might work in other local building projects, depending on their size and schedules.
They would have to be large projects, such as apartment buildings, hotels or even dormitories, to make it worthwhile to set up an assembly site, said Graham, who works for Austin Commercial Inc., a subsidiary of Austin
“We’re looking to see if we can use it in a dorm project we’re bidding on,” he added. “It has 800 rooms. I’d rather not say where it is, though. We don’t have the job yet.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)