Deep within the Mojave Desert, a two-lane road leads to an isolated U.S. Army base, where our nation’s soldiers prepare for war amidst the dry and sparse expanse that surrounds them. It’s on this site where a design team has been charged to offset the stark realities of that environment by creating a “medical oasis.”
The 215,000-square-foot Fort Irwin Replacement Hospital located 37 miles northeast of Barstow, California, is the latest on a recent list of military medical facilities showcasing the U.S. Department of Defense’s “world-class” healthcare design initiative.
However, on top of its evidence-based design principles including both patient- and family-centered care, the facility also stands to become the first net-zero, carbon-neutral hospital that will generate all of its energy needs from solar power and renewable energy systems.
“It needs to be something different. It needs to restore these soldiers and warriors, and bring them back to health as well as take care of their families. So that was a real priority for us right from the get-go,” says Steve Langston, director of design for RLF, which designed and engineered the facility through the design documents stage and now provides construction support services as part of a joint venture with Ellerbe Becket.
Turner Construction Co. was selected to build the $160 million hospital that replaces the Weed Army Community Hospital currently on the base, with groundbreaking expected in August 2012. Occupancy is scheduled for March 2015.
From the outset, the Fort Irwin project presented a unique challenge—the “client.” Ownership consists of seven separate military entities, including the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs; the Department of Defense (DOD) and the U.S. Army; the U.S. Army Health Facilities Planning Agency; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Los Angeles District; the garrison commander of Fort Irwin, representing the hospital itself; and the Department of Public Works.
“It is very multifaceted, and we have to be the design team that threads the needle, so to speak, and so we worked through all of the various requirements from the various agencies to bring it together to get their approval on time and on budget,” says Ronald A. Lowry, AIA, chairman of RLF’s board of directors.
That objective was no easy task, either, with a very tight schedule that gave RLF just 40% of the time normally allotted for design in a traditional Army project model, says Keith Holloway, AIA, project/BIM technology manager for RLF.
Ken Wing, PE, district project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who managed the design contract for the government, concurs, noting a directive was given by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense to award the project by March 30, 2012. “This direction drove the entire process and we accelerated the design schedule to allow complete design documents in a 14-month period,” he says.
A ‘world-class’ oasis
Fort Irwin is home to an armored regiment, but it also has another highly important mission: serving as the location for the Army’s National Training Center (NTC), a fact that served as a critical guide for how the design of the replacement hospital took shape.
“They constantly have battalions rotating through, one right after the other, before each of the brigades can deploy—that’s their mission. The mission of the hospital is to support the troops and their families, and any eligible retirees around the Fort Irwin area,” Lowry says.