Constructing a COVID-19 ACF in Record Time

 

When the COVID-19 crisis emerged in early 2020, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) recognized the tremendous risk faced by the U.S. Virgin Islands if it were to be hit by a major outbreak, and partnered with the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Savannah District to rapidly implement an alternate care facility (ACF) on St. Croix to ensure that severely ill and infectious patients would have access to appropriate treatments in a region where existing healthcare infrastructure was limited.

Conti Federal was awarded the USACE contract to design and construct the conversion of an existing National Guard barracks on St. Croix to a 48-bed ACF. The project faced extraordinary challenges as workforce availability, supply chain, transportation and other infrastructure were being actively shut down to contain the pandemic.

In just 22 days’ time, the Conti Federal team was able to:

  • Assess as-built existing conditions

  • Source materials within the “Buy American Act” despite vendors being closed due to the pandemic

  • Transport all materials from the U.S. mainland while navigating travel restrictions

  • Engage the necessary and qualified skilled workforce from the U.S. mainland and Puerto Rico

  • Troubleshoot all problems in real time

  • Complete the facility to all applicable codes and design standards

The construction included 12 patient rooms, a nursing station, a staff lounge, patient isolation spaces with infection controls, fire protection, temporary-power generation and other safety features. The project scope included facility upgrades and repairs; architectural modifications; mechanical, electrical and plumbing upgrades; a sophisticated heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system; and a broadband communications system.

As the COVID-19 crisis emerged, so did the challenges that went along with building an ACF on a remote island. Not only did the project mission have an aggressive timeline, the team was additionally challenged with heightened safety protocols, depleted resources, and restricted travel. With restrictions changing rapidly, Conti Federal understood that completing the project successfully would call for flexibility and transparency between all stakeholders.

The first challenge was securing a workforce that could quickly travel to St. Croix and work to the level of quality the project demanded. Conti Federal was able to promptly organize a team based on our extensive network of trusted partners worldwide.

Another major challenge was that the supply chain, transportation, and infrastructure were rapidly shutting down to contain the pandemic. This required Conti Federal to anticipate every possible need in advance. For example, none of the materials necessary to complete the project were available in St. Croix. With commercial flights limited, Conti Federal had supplies transported to St. Croix on a chartered Lockheed L-100 Hercules (the civilian variant of the C-130 military transport aircraft). Stephen Bentley, USACE regional construction engineer, described the airlift as “an incredible milestone” and said that “the logistics, effort, and coordination to make this happen was historic.”

Completing fire and life safety inspections proved difficult with local offices closed due to the shutdown. Conti Federal located the necessary inspector at his home, explained the criticality of the situation, and brought him directly to the site.

Finally, as a retrofit project, there were unknowns about the structure that were not immediately apparent until walls and ceilings were removed. This required considerable flexibility to ensure that designs could be adapted on the fly as discoveries were made, and that the needed supplies were on hand for whatever situation arose.

Conti Federal overcame these and other challenges, such as keeping the entire team safe through the COVID-19 pandemic,- by involving the client in every aspect. The team instituted a process by which they assessed issues throughout the day, designed solutions at night, and conducted “over the shoulder” work sessions with the customer every few hours to collaborate on solutions in real-time.

In the end, Conti Federal completed and delivered a state-of-the-art ACF in only 22 days on a remote island while ensuring no outbreaks of COVID-19 among workers or staff onsite.

The Highlights

22

Days

Overcoming numerous obstacles and challenges, the project was completely in only 22 days.

48

Patients

The converted National Guard barracks included 24 rooms and could serve up to 48 patients. 

L-100

Hercules

With commercial flights limited, the team chartered a Lockheed L-100 Hercules to airlift supplies to the island.

Safety Incidents

Stringent safety protocols ensured zero incidents or lost time accidents, including no COVID-19 outbreaks.

In this image: The team surrounds the newly custom built nurse's station for the Alternate Care Facility.

In this image: One of 24 converted rooms that could care for two patients as needed.

In this image: An exterior look at the two-story barracks wing of St. Croix LTC L.A. Jackson Armory General Instruction Building, which was converted to the ACF. 

In this image: The team chartered a L-100 to airlift materials from Trenton, NJ to St. Croix, USVI.

In this image: Airlift and ground transport of a customized Dedicated Outdoor Air System (DOAS). 

In this image: A customized Dedicated Outdoor Air System (DOAS) had to be manufactured to meet project specifications.

Engineering News-Record magazine awarded this project Best Healthcare Project of 2021 for the Southeast Region. It was also a runner-up for Best Project of the Year.