NEA Baptist campus: How to Nail and Network a $400-Million Project

From the poured concrete to the paint on the walls, the NEA Baptist Medical Campus in Jonesboro, Ark., was more than a construction project for Birmingham-based Hoar Construction.

“It’s a place that will change everybody’s life that touches it, ” says Philip Talbot, Hoar project manager. “We knew lives would be impacted by what we put together, and that makes everything you do have a very significant meaning.”

At $400 million, the NEA Baptist campus is the largest investment in Arkansas health care in the last decade. It also was the largest construction project in the state from the time it started in April 2011 until it was completed in December 2013.

The end result is a 770, 000-square-foot integrated health care facility that opened in January. It includes a 550, 000-square-foot, 181-bed replacement hospital; 220, 000-square-foot physician clinic, and 33, 000-square-foot stand-alone cancer center. The project also included administrative offices and a central energy plant.

The hospital is a six-story structure connected floor-by-floor to an adjoining professional medical office building. The professional functionality is surrounded by upscale finishes and architecture and provides patients relaxing views of outdoor gardens and natural light from high windows above.

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“It doesn’t feel like you’re in a hospital, ” Talbot says. “It has a lodge kind of feel, homey and comfortable.”

But it all started with a field of dirt and a set of plans.

Talbot says there were more than 11, 000 different sheets of drawings associated with the project, designed by architect Earl Swensson and Associates of Nashville.
“At the height of the project, we had more than 700-750 people a day working on it, ” Talbot says.

Keeping all of those workers on the same page was a challenge.

That’s where information management technology came into play. Hoar integrated the use of mobile devices to enable all superintendents to access all project documentation — including model information, drawings, specs, submittals and requests for information — all at their fingertips anywhere.

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Talbot says the use of real-time technology played a key role in keeping workers updated and in touch with iPads rather than having to check in at the construction trailer to get updates or review plans.

“If a supervisor is having to go back and forth to the trailer to find the right information, it’s a bunch of waste, ” Talbot says. “Also having copies for all superintendents of 11, 000 pages of drawings was not feasible. It’s also not very eco friendly. We started implementing iPads a few years ago, but we didn’t really utilize them until this project.”

Talbot says all of the drawings, requests for information, submittals and all relevant project data remained in their hands, wherever they went.

“About halfway through the project we had a massive revision, ” he says. “From the construction side, it was a huge change involving electrical and mechanical rough ends that had to be adapted.”

Making sure everyone has the most current information is a major task, but because of the way they were using the iPads, Talbot was able to update the plan one time and distribute it out to all the superintendents.

“Then they all had it, and they could compare previous versions and mark them up on the iPads, ” he says. “If they were reviewing something on site and needed a little clarification from the design team, they could draw it up with a finger on the iPad, pulling up a PDF of the plan and send it to the design team for clarification.”

The process streamlined communication and prevented a lot of wasted time in preparing and answering questions.

“And it eliminated a lot of wasted time from the quarter-mile walk just going back and forth to the construction trailer.”

Construction wrapped up in December 2013, and the new facility opened its doors on Jan. 12.

Talbot says iPads are now being used on projects throughout the company, across the country.

“We’re getting closer to the point of not even issuing computers any longer, because the more we’ve made the iPad accessible, the less we’ve used computers, so it’s also a dual cost savings, as well as being more efficient.”

Subcontractors and project owners also were invited into the system, Talbot says, so their maintenance and operations staff were on board throughout the building and inspection process. They each had an iPad with all the plans, so that if they saw anything they wanted to review, they could do it right then or mark it for later.

“We all had access to everything, ” Talbot says. “The quality of communication led to the overall quality of the entire project. It was a tough job, and it had its challenges, but we were all very proud to be a part of that team. From the group of subcontractors we had, the owner, architect and design team, we just couldn’t have asked for a better team.”

Hoar prides itself in being a leader by integrating technology and construction practices.

“Construction is really seeing a key change in the application of technology, ” says Doug Eckert, executive vice president of business operations.

“We’re experimenting with augmented reality, being able to pass an iPad over a drawing, and it will then pop up a 3D image on a wall. Then you can click on it and separate a wall to see the different sections, ” he says. “There’s just a lot of technology and a lot of smart people out there trying to figure out how to make it relevant to the construction industry.”

The company has been using drone technology and iPads since they were first available.

“We’ve gone through every iteration with the drones, and, while we’ve used them in a limited fashion, specifically confined to a construction site, they are a very useful visual tool.”

Because of Hoar’s national footprint and the cutting-edge work they do for well-known owners like Disney and Apple, the company focuses on the latest technology available in construction and figuring out how to make construction more efficient for an owner.

“A lot of technology looks pretty in presentation, but we’re using it as a construction tool to build faster, more efficiently and accurately, ” Eckert says. “The complexity of the projects we do and the planning it takes involves incredible attention to detail and we want every tool that can enhance that process at the fingertips of our staff.”

Eckert says iPads were implemented the day they were released on April 3, 2010, and upgraded when the camera version was released in March 2011.

“The reason I know the dates is because we immediately implemented them, ” Eckert says. “Not only can you see the model and apps improving, but with the camera, our team could turn around, face the field and simultaneously hook up with the architect, showing on-site conditions through the camera, and everyone can see what’s going on right then, rather than having to take notes and photos to try to describe it.”

That helps because the on-site team can get a response in 15 minutes rather than a week later the old way.

“We have come, in our industry, a long way in four years with technology. While the market was slow, we saw the opportunity to invest a lot in tools and learning how to use them in construction, and we’re seeing great benefits now as the market is starting to pick up, ” Eckert says.

He expects things will change even more rapidly in the next four years.

“I’ve talked with technology experts and one of the leaders in the field runs our IT department — mobile devices are going to control most things. Wearable technology is coming on strong, especially with wearable technology, like Google Glass and a lot of other versions that are being developed out there, ” Eckert says. “I envision a future where construction workers on site have safety-rated glasses that they can turn on, walk around and it will be like we are there, walking on the site with them and we can see what they see.”

Eckert says Hoar is partners with many beta stage projects on how to develop faster, cheaper, better construction projects for owners.

“To be a national leader in construction, you need to be a leader in technology, ” he says.

Hoar Stakes Out Monumental D.C.

Birmingham-based Hoar Construction held its first groundbreaking in the metropolitan Washington area over the summer on a multi-family residential project.

Elysium Fourteen, an upscale, mixed-use, 56-apartment development on 14th Street NW, is in the heart of one of D.C.’s fastest growing and trendiest locations. It includes a nine-story tower, ground floor retail and the renovation and restoration of two existing historic buildings. Construction began in August.

The company’s D.C. area office opened in June and will focus on high-rise residential, office, hospitality, healthcare, retail and mixed-use projects.

Rob Burton, Hoar’s president and CEO, says in a news release that the new D.C. team includes industry veterans with years of experience working together in the Washington metropolitan area.

“We were drawn to Washington in large part because of this exceptional team and the opportunities for strong growth in the Washington metro area, ” Burton says. “We are committed to building something monumental in the Washington market.”

Hoar Construction, established in Birmingham in 1940 by Friend Reed (F.R.) Hoar, also has offices in Austin, Charlotte, Houston, Mobile, Nashville, Orlando and Tampa. The company currently has projects in 15 states.

Wendy Reeves is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Huntsville.

Text by Wendy Reeves

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