Hospital Hurdles

Don Procter

August 2006

In the world of construction, there is always a project or two that stands out from the crowd. For Toronto-based Select Drywall & Acoustics, an $8 million contract at a suburban Toronto hospital is that project.

Select’s hospital contract (William Osler Health Centre) is big—although not nearly as big as its work at Pearson International Airport earlier in the decade. But the health centre is a complex job with a demanding turbo-fast-track schedule that makes Pearson pale in comparison.

The bulk of the wall and ceiling contract is for the in-patient building, a 650,000 square foot structure in six-stories in Brampton. It has 85,000 linear feet of walls, almost half a million square feet of ceilings, and a stroll from one end to the other is about 1,000 feet.

Select’s contract commenced late last year and is slated for completion around Christmas. The contractor’s Mark Tatone describes it as "probably the largest job we’ve done for the shortest schedule. It is like doing four 30-story condo towers in one.”

To meet the tight deadline, Select requires four supervisors and a crew of up to 150 drywall installers, finishers and framers. That is as many as it required during peak construction at the airport. "We could do this job with about half that crew if it wasn’t for the tight schedule,” says Tatone, who doesn’t anticipate skilled labor shortages.

Select’s Project Manager Vince De Blasis says because of the tight schedule, he isn’t often given much lead time to pull together a crew, materials and equipment. Often a crew of 40 to 50 is required to squeeze into a confined space. That is largely because "there are miles of partitions” on each floor, says Select’s Project Estimator Marcello Salvato.

Salvato, who says the airport contracts were a "piece of cake” compared to the hospital contract, points out that one of the most trying aspects at the hospital job is the "tremendous amount” of bridging required. Workers installing hangers can expect to spend 30 percent of their time just making bridge frames to accommodate mechanicals.

Furthermore, Select’s contract calls for shooting the top track for the partitions, which the mechanical contractor uses as a guide for its installations. "They have a sweet deal because they have a completely empty floor to work on,” Salvato explains. "We have to go in after them and frame and board.”

That’s not just a waiting game. In some areas installing board on top of ductwork is "near impossible” because clearance is only a couple of inches. In other areas installers could do the work if they were permitted to lay on ductwork to do it, but that goes against best safety practices. One of the possible solutions is to use a spray-on ceiling product, rather than board.

Another headache is the amount of metal backing specified. "Almost every wall requires it and as the job progresses there are a lot of architectural revisions that we have to accommodate,” explains the contractor’s estimator, adding that metal backing is "even required for coat hooks.” Select uses a 14- and 18-guage metal flatstock backing. Plywood is not specified anywhere in the hospital partly because of concerns of off-gassing. The hospital owners are equally put off by any signs of moisture on drywall that could lead to mold growth—so all boards with water splatters must be replaced.

De Blasis, who has been with Select since 1973, says the hospital project is quite a contrast to the way things were done 30 years ago. While many of today’s wall and ceiling products are easy enough to install, architects are designing more complex beasts—like the hospital—and owners are setting completion times that would be impossible to meet in the 1970s. "There is lots of pressure on this job, much more than you would find on work we did back then,” De Blasis says.

About the Author
Don Procter is free-lance writer in Ontario, Canada.