What started out as a 26,250-square foot empty shell, has now been transformed into more than 100 patient care spaces that can be used in Montana’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, completed construction on an alternate care facility in Kalispell, Montana, May 24, two days earlier than required. The ACF also came in more than 10% under budget.
“You don't see this every day,” said Jeremy Ayala, construction representative, USACE-Omaha. “That's the thing. Walking into this space and you got this vast area to work with. And now you're walking through hallways and maneuvering around things. Seeing what these guys have put together in a short period of time it's pretty amazing to be a part of something like this.”
On April 17, the state of Montana requested FEMA to task the Omaha District with building an ACF in Kalispell in the northwest corner of the state. The lease was signed on May 4 to build the facility on the vacant, undeveloped, third floor of Montana Children’s, the new pediatric facility of the Kalispell Regional Medical Center. The next day the Omaha District awarded the $2,643,703.12 contract, which started the clock ticking.
“After award is given, the contractor has 21 days to mobilize to the area, and to complete the entire buildout of the alternate care facility,” said Ryan Field, Kalispell ACF project manager, USACE-Omaha. “That in and of itself is unique.”
Actual construction began May 11. The facility is designed to treat non-acute, non-COVID patients, freeing up space in the main hospital’s critical care facilities. It has 98 patient care rooms, seven nurse’s stations, four restrooms, three pharmacies (which can be converted into patient care rooms) and a medical supply storage room.
After touring the facility, USACE Northwestern Division Commander Brig. Gen. Pete Helmlinger was impressed with the both the quality and the speed of the work.
“Partnership is extremely important. This is truly a team sport here, and we had to have everybody aligned to bring it in on time so we could not have been successful without the support of first FEMA, as well as the state of Montana, Kalispell Regional Medical Center, the Corps of Engineers and our construction contractors, so everybody has been in alignment,” he said.
That alignment including safety and health measures taken by the contractors performing the work. At times there were as many as 70 contractors laying framework, hanging sheet rock, and installing the electrical and plumbing utilities.
“There's a lot of times where they're right on top of each other,” Ayala said. “Everyone had their temperature checked everyday. They all wore masks. It's not the easiest thing to wear, but they've kept their distance, they've worked alongside each other.”
Currently, Montana has the second lowest number of total cases of COVID-19, and the lowest number of cases per capita of any state in the country. The state requested the ACF be built not to deal with the current situation, but with what might happen in the fall when flu season hits and a second wave of cases may arise.
"As Montana begins the process of reopening, we remain vulnerable to a potential spike in cases," said Maj. Gen. Matthew Quinn, the Adjutant General for Montana and leader of the Montana Coronavirus Task Force. "The extra capability this facility will provide to hospitals throughout the region is critical to ensuring the continued safety of our population. We must make sure that we take every step now to prepare for a potential second wave later in the year."
The Kalispell ACF is a project that all involved with hope will never have to be used.
“There’s a personal touch with this project,” he contemplated. “It's different if you're working on a levee or a dam or a tornado and you know where the danger is, you know where the hazard is, you know where the impact is. You don't know where this is. So, you know, it is a great project to be on knowing that you hope it is never used. But knowing that if it is used, that you helped the people in this region.”
“You never know what's going to happen. You never know if this is really going to be needed or not in the future,” Ayala echoed. “But to know that we were able to come here and put this together in this short timeframe for when it is needed is a sense of accomplishment. It's something that you can, you know, hang your hat on at the end of the day that we did this and we did it right. For whoever comes in and they can use it easily.”
To date, all of USACE has completed 38 ACF’s across the country, with three more still under construction.