AUGUSTA — The $312 million hospital rising on a hillside in north Augusta is being built by people likely to use it.
And this past week, the number of workers topped 300 for the first time. The hardhat count will rise to between 400 and 500 over the summer.
New arrivals find flush toilets and sinks with running water inside the heated building shell. They can use safer, finished stairways at the north and south ends of the building. Symbols painted on concrete decking show locations for electrical outlets, door swings, countertops, ceiling heights and room numbers.
Headwalls — with lots of pre-plumbed gear — and bathrooms for the patient rooms are being assembled on the ground floor. Waterproofers are wrapping the building. Windows are being installed, and the bricklayers have begun work on the east exterior wall.
For most of the local contractors doing the work, it’s the largest, longest and one of the most satisfying projects they’ve undertaken.
“It’s by far the largest,” said John Scott, vice president of HP Cummings, which has offices in Winthrop and is partnering with Alabama-based Robins & Morton on the construction management. Scott is senior project manager at the site of MaineGeneral Medical Center’s new regional hospital.
Local business owners echo those words.
“It’s among the largest we’ve ever done,” said Douglas Newman, of Newman Concrete Services, Inc. in Richmond. “We just recently competed the bulk of the foundations in the last few weeks.”
The biggest pour was 600 cubic yards for a retaining wall’s cap.
Newman’s work force peaked at 75 people; 25 continue to work at the site next to exit 113 of Interstate 95.
“We generally work right through the winter; the mild weather certainly helped both the schedule and obviously made it more pleasant for the guys,” Newman said.
The same weather helped speed some aspects of construction — while the resulting mud impeded others — and now the hospital is projected to open before the end of 2013, about six months earlier than originally anticipated.
‘I live around the corner’
On Tuesday, workers scooted over newly poured concrete, riding in machines that resembled air boats with fans on the bottom. Concrete workers are expected to continue working there throughout the summer.
“It definitely was a great situation for guys that work for me,” said Newman.
His company once employed 125, and ramping the numbers working on the hospital up to 75 allowed Newman Concrete to get some of those employees back.
Newman lauded the hospital’s commitment to employing local people and firms on the project.
“We’ve been excluded from a lot of large projects,” Newman said. “Out-of-state companies bring in out-of-state concrete guys; we get cut out of a lot of this work. The hospital didn’t show any real preferences, but they made sure Maine companies got a shot and Maine companies have done pretty darn good.”
The value of the hospital contract makes it the largest project ever done by Standard Waterproofing Inc., of Waterville, in its 20 years of operation, said its vice president, Theresa Thompson.“We have such a large scope of work there, and it’s so diverse we’ll be on this job from start to finish,” Thompson said. She said the firm’s long-term work relationship with HP Cummings helped it gain the contract.
“It’s great they have made a commitment to working with Maine subcontractors, and when largest construction project hits the area they’re sticking with local contractors. We basically insure that the building from basement to roof line is basically water tight,” she said.
The waterproofing workers — sometimes as many as a dozen at a time — were on site in November, when mild temperatures aided the concrete installation and in turn the waterproofing. As soon as the forms are stripped from the concrete walls, the waterproofing goes on. It goes under slabs as well.
A peel-and-stick blue waterproofing membrane, applied in a roll that’s 3 feet wide by 50 feet long, is going on the walls above grade. “People will see a blue membrane from the highway,” Thompson said. “The gold wall is the exterior sheathing.” Rigid foam insulation follows and finally brick.
The firm, which also does all the caulking, has workers from Skowhegan, Waterville, China, Palermo, Norridgewock and Augusta.
“I live around the corner,” said Eugene Osmond of Augusta, as he knelt to carefully apply black waterproofing membrane over joints in the concrete foundation wall, slicing off the excess coating with a knife. He could commute on a bicycle, he said.
Workers from JR Metal Frames of Belgrade won’t be on the construction site itself; instead, they’re crafting 2,400 metal door frames for the new hospital.
The order is the company’s largest, according to Bob Pepin, company president. “This is probably a year-long project for us,” he said. “It’s been great. It’s helping us to develop other things and grow. It’s really nice, especially for my hometown of Augusta.”
A feeling of pride
Now, three people are building the frames, cutting the steel, welding the joints and then grinding them before stacking the frames — some with sidelights for shipment to the hospital.
“We will have to add people this summer because this is going to be on top of other work,” Pepin said. He estimated needing an additional eight to 12 workers.
Some of the doors have sidelights; others, destined for areas where radiation is used, have lead-lined frames.
“This job is close enough we can do just about anything they need,” Pepin said. “They never going to get any better service because they can have just about anything they want within a week’s time.”
More than 300 of the door frames are already on the hospital site. JR Metal Frames sends them to a distributor, who does the installation.
Cives Steel Co.’s Augusta plant is fabricating the 4,000 tons of structural steel being used to frame new hospital. Peter Labbe, assistant general manager, said this is a mid-size project for the company which does a lot of work in Boston.
“It’s going to be a very large footprint,” Labbe said. “In Boston, things tend to go higher; here, real estate is a lot more reasonable, you can stretch out and make a more efficient building.”
Labbe estimated all 150 workers in the Augusta plant are working to make the steel beams, columns, decking and stairs that are going into the new hospital.
“It’s a great feeling of pride,” Labbe said. “Because our work is usually so far away, they don’t get to see the fruits of their labor. Now they have an opportunity to drive by on regular basis and see it going in the air and knowing they’re going to use it when it’s complete.”
Cives contracted with American Steel Erectors to put the steel in place. Steelworkers came onto the site a month earlier than originally planned because the foundations went in ahead of schedule. “We are making great progress,” Labbe said.
If that same progress continues, the major steel work will be complete by midsummer. “We’re one of the first contractors off the site,” Labbe said.
The interior metal stud framing, insulation and drywall work is just beginning, and it will be done by several different firms working together.
“It’s the first joint venture we have been part of,” said Ron Loubier, president of Zimba Co., Fairfield. Zimba is partnering with Dirigo Drywall and Porter Drywall, both of Portland, and Landry & Sons Acoustics of Lewiston. “Between the three of us, it’s sizable; Porter is the lead guy. They have around 50 people.”
The partnership allows the firms to share the work and continue work at other jobs as well. “The main reason we got together is because we wanted to keep the work in state and not people from Texas coming to do the work in our backyard,” Loubier said.
At the project’s height, Loubier expects that Zimba will have 25 to 30 workers on site.
Marking it off
This week, Bryce Ginn of Waldo, and two other Zimba employees snapped red chalk lines on bare concrete on the first floor of the hospital. They were preparing to layout the interior metal framing, and indicating where the steel beams needed fireproof spray foam. The Zimba crew had been on site for a week. “It’s nice to have a job close by,” Ginn said.
Roofs for the various sections of the hospital are being installed by workers from G&E Roofing of Augusta. “We installed an enclosure and heated it so we could install the roof in the winter,” said Chris Russell, project manager for G&E Roofing.
This week, an enclosure was unnecessary as roofers — tethered as they worked outside a heavy metal cable — applied material to the top of the penthouse level. That area will hold boxcar-sized airhandlers for the floors below, designated for behavioral, prep and recovery and emergency room services.
The flat roof goes on as soon as the steel is up and the concrete decking installed. “We follow right behind,” Russell said.
The roofing firm, headed by president Norm Elvin, has 20 people working at the site this week.
“In terms of manhours, the project is 25,000-plus manhours for G&E Roofing, which is by far the largest project that we have ever done,” Elvin said. “The hospital has done an exceptional job working with Maine contractors, and I mean exceptional. They said they were going to do that right from the outset.”
The 192-bed hospital is next to the Harold Alfond Center and Cancer Care, which was opened by the same parent organization, MaineGeneral Health, in July 2007.
Hospital officials offered estimates on the economic impact of the project, noting that $152 million in work has been subcontracted. Of that, $149 million has gone to local companies and joint ventures, they say.
They estimated that 92 percent of workers are from Maine and 96 percent of the workers are from New England.
A banner hanging in the construction headquarters building lists the names of two dozen companies working on the project. Along with the local firms are AD & W Architectural Doors and Windows and E.S. Boulos Company, both of Westbrook; Eastern Fire Protection, Maine Masonry Co. Inc., and Exactitude, Inc., all of Bangor; Johnson & Jordan and New England TECHAIR, both of Scarborough; Hahnel Bros. Co. of Lewiston and Sargent Corporation of Stillwater. Other Maine companies — many in the finish trades — have yet to start their work there.
At a ground-breaking ceremony in September, HP Cummings’ John Scott told attendees that about $40,000 per hour will be spent on construction work for almost three years.
The entire hospital project, including financing, is estimated at $412 million and includes $10 million in improvements for MaineGeneral Medical Center’s Thayer campus in Waterville. Hospital officials plan to close the hospital on South Chestnut in Augusta and to convert Thayer into an out-patient clinic with a 24-hour emergency department.
Betty Adams — 621-5631