Corner Brook Acute Care Hospital — Modular Racking Program

Like others of its size, this mega project required a strategy to hire staff with a suitable skill set adequately. As a joint venture, we were adamant from the beginning of the project that we wanted the economy of Newfoundland to reap the benefit of such an iconic project in the province. With the finite number of sheet metal workers available, the logistical constraints of working on an island, and managing workers who mostly travel from other cities and towns within Newfoundland (compounded by a limited number of accommodations in the local area), we had to look for clever strategies to temper our manpower curve to remove as many peaks and valleys as possible.

To reduce the significant manpower peak and keep workers employed more consistently, we focused on developing a modular build philosophy that allowed us to hire sheet metal professionals and have them deployed earlier in the project in a better, safer work environment. Modules were designed to be fabricated on the ground, reducing working at height exposure hours and improving ergonomics for our workforce, and to be installed with a composite workforce who remained employed throughout the entirety of the program scope.


As is often the case with new and innovative solutions, we faced some significant hurdles in bringing the idea from concept to reality, the main challenges being seismic constraints, project-wide cooperation, early adoption in a Design-Build project, and a significant increase in the number and difficulty of BIM deliverables. While initially daunting, these challenges were overcome over the course of the project with innovation, cooperation, and a unified project vision.

Historically, many similar instances of multi-disciplinary racking have been implemented in non-seismic construction using a threaded rod to allow for a quick and flexible installation. However, the project’s seismic requirements made for uncharted territory and demanded a more robust system. The design also needed to be uniform enough to allow for assembly-line production but flexible enough to accommodate the vast differences in service density and to support services installed after the racks were in place.

We worked hand-in-hand with the seismic engineers at Frontier Subsea Inc. to design a rack concept from the ground up using unistrut that met all of the design criteria and could be installed in an 8ft wide corridor with priority walls erected while meeting a strict seismic requirement for rigid structural tiebacks.

With a design in place, bringing the rest of the project team on board was imperative to the program’s success. The CPJV worked with the structural consultant, WSP, to ensure the added weight of the rack construction was accounted for in the building’s steel structure and with the PCL/Marco Joint Venture to coordinate a multi-phase priority wall strategy to allow for rack ingress and construction, as well as envelope openings, mobile crane locations, and on-site fabrication stations. Once the groundwork was complete, to stay ahead of an aggressive structural erection schedule, the BIM team pre-populated all the rack locations throughout the building. It generated LEICA point layouts provided to a site survey team that used a LEICA station to accurately install over 2200 inserts in Q-decking to the stringent seismic tolerances. Once the final pour was complete, the structural infrastructure for all the racking was in place and ready for installation.

The need for the aforementioned work to be completed early in the project to suit the structural schedule was an inherent risk in a Design-Build project structure. Planning to this point was done with limited mechanical and electrical design and required close cooperation between the CPJV and the Smith+Andersen/Jewer Bailey engineering team through the remainder of the design development process to ensure the modular racking program’s viability was maximized as the design progressed. Early fabrication and installation of the modular rack also meant later design changes needed to be carefully coordinated to minimize rework in the field. This cooperation would continue into the modeling and coordination process as the design met the reality of regular construction tolerances, increased phasing requirements, and the racks’ constraints.

The BIM modelling and coordination effort, a joint operation by BIM groups from Plan Group, The Cahill Group, Atlantica Contractors, GenInfo Solutions, Maxwell MEP, Life Safety Systems, Adanac Systems, and Diacreek Engineering, would be the practical application of all of the early works done on the project.

While the upfront planning helped mitigate many complications, the modular racking program would require a more aggressive schedule to accommodate early rack installation, greater attention to detail to comply with rack construction requirements, and an additional 635 deliverables to generate the associated spool/fabrication packages. To speed up the coordination process, reduce quality control time and ensure the accuracy of the prefabrication packages, a nineteen-page design guide was co-authored by the site team and the project BIM leads to help ensure the designers were aware of all the constraints of a multi- disciplinary racking structure and provision for them in their design. Live, cloud-based coordination via Navisworks and BIM Track was also implemented to ensure a swift, cohesive approach to issue resolution. To address the advanced schedule and the added deliverables, while the CPJV was working with the rest of the project team to finalize the early works, a team of designers was working full-time in a dedicated racking model to generate over 635 highly detailed drawings and 4500 Bills of Materials (BOMs) in advance of the main modelling effort which, through innovative use of Revit assemblies, filtering, and view templates, would allow for the drawings and BOMs to be auto-populated as coordination progressed. The result was an assembly-line workflow in the BIM environment, from coordination to annotation to quality control and issuance, that would mirror the assembly lines in the field.


The multi-trade modular racking solution developed on CBACH was designed with the primary goal of doing more with less. By incorporating electrical, HVAC, medical gas, and plumbing systems on each rack, three multidisciplinary crews of nine tradespeople each were able to fabricate and install approximately 70,000ft of pipe, 75,000lbs of sheet metal, and 5000ft of cable tray on 212 modular, seismically engineered racks of either 20ft or 30ft lengths. Using comprehensive drawings and BOMs provided by the BIM group developed to complement the carefully designed assembly line strategies both on-site and in a nearby facility purchased for the program, labourers were able to work safely and quickly from the ground and were able to completely fabricate a 20ft rack in 180 hours and a 30ft rack in 240 hours, with fully fabricated racks going from the assembly-line floor to complete installation in only two hours.

At its conception, the anticipated results of the modular racking program were forecast based on experience from previous projects and contrasted against the stick-build estimates done at pursuit. The peak labour curve at pursuit required 309 tradespeople, and our projections with the program brought that number down by 89 to 220. However, the reality of the construction constraints imposed by the seismic requirements, an unknown in racking to date, required an increase to the size of an individual racking crew from a projected five to a total of nine. Additionally, the total number of racks, estimated at 290 at 50% Design Development when the total M&E service density was unknown, reduced to 212 posts IFC as areas of the final design fell outside of established racking parameters, requiring a larger percentage of the hospital

to be built using traditional methods. Despite these realities, a peak labour reduction of 50 tradespeople was still achieved, which over the six-month peak saved a total of 36,000hrs from the pursuit estimate.


The modular racking program at the Corner Brook Acute Care Hospital was an example of a truly cohesive project team and how early adoption and upfront planning can allow more to be done with less during the construction phase. The Cahill Plan Group Joint Venture proposed the concept, and the PCL/Marco Joint Venture and the consulting team worked with us to make the concept a reality. The industry-first application of 212 modular racks in a 600,000sqft, Design-Build, Seismically Rated, in-patient hospital with a steel structure is proof that prefabricated, multi-disciplinary ceiling strata installations are an achievable reality in any application, as long as all parties are willing to work together and commit to the extra work needed to see it through. The application we have demonstrated here is not the full extent of what is capable but rather a proof of concept and a foundation. If an industry-wide adoption of racking were to occur, the process could expand to include architectural elements such as wall studs and the top layer of drywall and perhaps even be designed to account for ceiling supports, for example. The scalability is limited only by the project team’s willingness to cooperate. The front-loaded planning, reduced project phasing, and composite crews this methodology requires will allow us to adapt to a rapidly changing industry by providing a solution that is beneficial to all parties and is sustainable regardless of the current state of logistics, material availability, and labour pools in the Canadian market.

These benefits, in turn, translate to a capacity for tighter turnarounds on project delivery and lower overall project costs. Lowering construction costs, particularly in the Healthcare sector where we have demonstrated the program’s viability, would create the opportunity to increase the number of active projects or expand the budget for projects that are either larger, more technologically advanced, or more specialized in their area of treatment.

The Canadian Healthcare System’s infrastructure has been tested heavily in the last few years, and it is apparent that more facilities, both generalized and specialized in their treatment focus, are desperately needed as we emerge from a global health crisis. The ability to provide more facilities at a faster rate and a lower cost in the coming years will be crucial for our nation both as it recovers and to ensure that in the event of any future crises, we are better prepared and can stand as a global leader in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Canadian citizens from coast to coast.

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