Tight footprints, tight timelines and tight regulations at the University of California – Davis Health medical building led to a Boldt Co. partnership with Mark III Construction that moved construction manufacturing offsite to complete the $5 million project in a seven-month window.
The project team found success not only by embracing prefabrication but also through collaboration and coordination – which led to manufacturing the new structure at Mark III’s 24,000-sq-ft California prefabrication facility about 22 miles away before assembling the walls over two days at the school’s on-campus Sacramento site.
“We were basically guests in Mark III’s shop and working with them,” says Dan Thuleen, Boldt project manager. “It forced, but in a good way, our processes with the best practices we had, and the best practices Mark III had. We are building walls in their shop and carting them over to mechanical, electrical and plumbing portions for each of those tradespeople to do their work. We had to make decisions early on and collaborate in order to meet both the timeline and the budget.”
The 4,000-sq-ft health clinic’s location complicated the project – the new building is set on a state university campus but built for the school’s private health arm. Thuleen says the approval on the design — Boldt worked with architect Boulder Associates — went through campus and health system reviews, which sometimes created conflicts. “That takes extra time and money,” he says, noting that seemingly simple things such as waterproofing on the skin required a skin consultant as part of campus construction standards. “Sometimes, there were multiple iterations of a review instead of one person.”
Boldt won the bid for the project in fall 2019 and started designing at the end of the year. It started the demolition package Jan. 24 and split construction into on-site foundation and steel and the remainder of the project, allowing a start before final project approvals came through in May. “It allowed us to start on time, but presented challenges in document control,” Thuleen says. “We did stay on track.”
“From the beginning of the design-build effort, the Boldt team understood the critical nature of our project schedule and worked to ensure success,” says Jim Carroll, associate vice chancellor and university architect for UC-Davis. “Working collaboratively and finding creative design and construction solutions was as important as staying within our budget.”
Slated to finish in early October, the timeline has been extended three weeks to Oct. 23 because of a material procurement delay in specialized medical casework because of slow fabrication and supply availability because of the pandemic.
Early concepts called for using portable buildings, but they wouldn't fit within the November 2020 opening timeline, leading to offsite manufacturing. That decision, made prior to the pandemic, helped with timelines and ensured that jobsite restrictions put on contractors because of the pandemic didn’t have a significant impact on workers in the Mark III facility, says Pam Brink, Boldt project executive. Crews averaging 12 to 15 people wore personal protective equipment and practiced workspace distancing, made easier thanks to the facility layout.
Deborah Swingle, associate director of the Special Projects Group for UC-Davis, says the construction method was needed to meet the aggressive deadline. “Not only are we meeting the project requirements and goals,” she says, “but we are getting a quality product.”
Boldt decided to move forward with the steel frame structure and metal deck on site and construct all wall panels, including with mechanical, electrical and plumbing, at the Mark III facility. “It was really the only way the project made sense,” Thuleen says. “This is the most up-front planning I’ve ever done on a construction job.”
The collaboration, though, reached new heights with both groups working within the same facility. “This is the first time we had to elevate our level of collaboration by preparing documents for Boldt to build off,” says Makayla Oei, Mark III project executive. “The level of coordination was elevated because they came into our shop. The collaboration was the only way it could work.”
Boldt, which operates its own prefabrication facility at its Appleton, Wis., headquarters, had not performed this type of work in California before because state regulations often prohibit it on healthcare projects – those rules did not apply to this campus building. Thuleen says Boldt’s interest for prefabrication-style work has increased and they are exploring the process on a Southern California residential housing project. “Due to the coordination and effort on modeling, it worked really well.”
The tight timeline presented issues with sequencing. Thuleen says a mixture of in-person meetings or remote meetings also meant the response and turnaround on information lacked consistency, throwing off the project’s timing. Add in September’s wildfire air quality issues, and “everything has been a little harder,” he says.
“Every week was another roadblock,” Oei says. “Being patient and finding ways to maneuver the unknown, with the approach of how we came to this project, I think we are in a great spot. If we didn’t take the approach we did, the 23rd(of October) probably would not be feasible. The way we started on this path allowed us to maneuver the unknowns better than a traditional approach.”
Dan Carlton, Mark III CEO, says the Davis Health project goes beyond prefabrication to “construction manufacturing” of a specific project. “This is a small project but happened to be fit on a very tight schedule,” he says. “We are all in on this being the future.”
Tim Newcomb is a newspaper and magazine journalist based in Western Washington, covering design and construction in buildings and transportation around the Northwest.
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