Covenant HealthCare's new Emergency Care Center in Saginaw, Mich. will treat more than 72,000 patients annually.
SAGINAW, Mich. - Covenant HealthCare, the sixth largest hospital in Michigan, is currently investing $63 million in an ambitious construction and renovation project. The largest addition to its sprawling downtown campus in mid-Michigan is the four-story Emergency Care Center, designed to treat more than 70,000 patients a year.

The $22 million, 163,500 sq. ft. structure is to be one of the most sophisticated centers in the state, with the latest in specialized treatments for trauma, pediatrics and other critical care. Snips was recently given a tour of the facility as the hvac system and ductwork installation was being completed.

Putting in a climate control system for such a demanding environment presents a special challenge to hvac and sheet metal contractors. Issues such as the comfort of building occupants, indoor air quality (IAQ) and humidity control take on added importance in a hospital setting. This fact was not lost on employees of Remer Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning. The company served as mechanical contractors for the project.

Remer Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning foreman Tom Gross shows off the Webco system's heating and cooling coils.

Project was 'different'

"The work you do in a hospital is different than any other work you'll ever do," said Tom Gross of Remer. "It takes a certain kind of person to work in a place like this. You can't just bring in anyone off the street."

If the humidity is not kept at the optimum level, static electricity can build up, tending to adversely affect medical equipment or how well a doctor is able to handle instruments in the operating room, Gross said.

Saginaw-based Remer has specialized in hvac, plumbing and mechanical work for more than 40 years. The company does more than $20 million in annual volume, with $11 million coming from the mechanical side. All employees working in construction or service are licensed mechanics in plumbing, boiler, medical gas, mechanical or back flow work.

Remer belongs to the Michigan Plumbing and Mechanical Contractors Association (MPMCA), the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling-Contractors Association (PHCC) and Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 85 of Saginaw. The firm began work on the emergency center in June 2000. Remer is responsible for overseeing the installation of the hvac, plumbing and medical gas systems.

The heart of the emergency center's hvac system is a 5,000 sq. ft., 131-ft. long, 45-ft. wide rooftop building. It houses a 93-ton, nine-unit Webco system. Inside, four return and supply air fans produce up to 52,000 cfm. The unit had to be hoisted up 70 ft. with the assistance of a crane and lowered carefully into place. "This is the biggest rooftop unit I've ever set. The size of the duct coming off that thing is just unbelievable," Gross said.

Zack Co. employee Troy Emerson works on the Emergency Center's ductwork.

The Zack Co.

The job of fabricating and installing the ductwork was subcontracted by Remer to The Zack Co. A Michigan-based firm, Zack has specialized in hvac and sheet metal work since 1922. It has facilities in Saginaw and Flint. The company has 50 employees in Saginaw and sales approaching several million dollars annually. Zack employees working on the emergency center are members of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA) Local 7, Zone 3, based in Saginaw. Zack has extensive experience with commercial, industrial and institutional projects. Past clients have included Dow Chemical, General Motors, the University of Michigan and Sears, Roebuck and Co.

Most of the more than 95,000 lbs. of low and medium pressure duct the emergency center required was fabricated on shear and Pittsburgh machines at Zack's Saginaw facility. "That's about all we use," said general foreman Michael Wagner. They also have a Cybermation plasma cutter, Wysong brakes and shears, a Gripnail insulation machine and miscellaneous Lockformer equipment.

The ductwork for Covenant HealthCare's Emergency Center is mostly rectangular, with some round and spiral used to feed off the hvac system's 165 VAV boxes. Ducts range in size from 46- x 36-in. to 72- x 44-in. All joints and seams are Pittsburgh. The system uses eight risers, 110 fire dampers, 16 exhaust fans and 560 grilles, registers and dampers.

"I've just never seen one as large as this," said Zack Co. field foreman Matt Slivinski. "It's an amazing unit."

Zack also specializes in architectural metals and siding. One showcase project involved the metal resurfacing of an aging brick façade on a senior housing facility. Another unusual job involved metal siding for a college planetarium.

Both Remer and Zack workers said the accelerated pace of the hospital's construction presented a challenge. Only slightly more than a year was allotted for the project. Remer workers have been on site since last July, and Zack employees have been working since late November. At times, it was unclear if contractors would be able to meet the hospital's deadline, Slivinski said. But workers responded well to the challenge.

"When things started (backing up) and push came to shove, we increased our manpower out here and got things back on schedule," Slivinski said. "Now things are really looking good."

With more than 14 years in the sheet metal industry, deadline pressures are nothing new to Slivinski. But at the end of the job, his reaction is usually the same. "When everything fits and everything goes well, it puts a smile on my face," he said.

Gross agreed. "You want to do the best you can," he said. "Everything that we do here affects something down the road. I'm proud to be a part of it."

Covenant Healthcare was formed in 1998 after two longtime city hospitals, Saginaw General and St. Luke's, merged. Covenant is Saginaw County's largest employer, with more than 4,000 workers including 400 physicians and 700 volunteers. Hospital officials estimate the consolidation of services into one facility will save $1.5 million annually.

Med gas: lifeline to critical care

Also unusual concerning this health care project was that, when all was said and done, the contractor and tradespeople were invited back to discuss their efforts in front of an audience in a walk-through tour. Even better, that audience consisted of area teachers and their classes. Students got to see up close some of the skills and knowledge necessary in creating this type of facility. Beyond bricks and mortar, in this case it included a highly sophisticated system of supplying gases and liquids to obstetrics, neo-natal and pediatric care services, oncology, cardiology and surgery programs, etc. There have been several reported incidents over the past few years of cross connections, contaminated systems and improper installations of "med gas" systems that have resulted in injuries and death. Each mechanical contractor now doing this type of work must develop brazing procedures and have its installers certified specifically for medical gas installation.