The North Carolina Cancer Hospital

By Christina Fisher | September 28, 2010

Skanska USA Building Inc. is well under way on a four-year project constructing the North Carolina Cancer Hospital, the fifth hospital in the University of North Carolina Hospitals system. In addition to the 324,000-square-foot cancer hospital, Skanska is also building a 105,000-square-foot physicians' office building across the street.

After the groundbreaking in December 2005, demolition subcontractor D.H. Griffin deconstructed a pedestrian bridge that linked a parking deck to the existing hospitals on the construction site. The pedestrian bridge not only crossed a secondary road, but also a major thoroughfare. This caused logistical challenges, so the work took place at night and on the weekends.

"We had to put together a pedestrian and vehicular traffic reroute that included rerouting ambulance traffic to the emergency room," says Steve Gourley, assistant project manager and LEED Accredited Professional with Skanska. "We actually routed them onto a temporary road through the project site."

The bridge was deconstructed in three phases. The first portion of the bridge was located on the hospital site so no road closings were required.

"This gave the demolition contractor a feel for how the structure was put together and how to attack the portions over the road," says Gourley.

D.H. Griffin first cut the bridge's roof structure and removed it in pieces. The concrete deck was chipped out, and then the steel girders were removed. The other two bridge sections — one over East Drive, which is a secondary road, and one over Manning Drive, which is the main road servicing the hospital complex — were removed in the same manner.

The pedestrian bridge will be replaced toward the end of the project; however, it will be a radius bridge, which is much more aesthetically pleasing. The new bridge will link to the physicians' office building first once it is topped off and the precast and façade pieces are in place. Connecting the bridge to the new hospital will come later.

Utility work on the site included installing new utilities and rerouting existing systems. Utilities that ran across the construction site were rerouted to run adjacent to it and then cross over at the lower end of the site.

Another challenge has been coordinating the utility work for the cancer hospital with utility work on an adjacent project.

"Utilities that we're installing as part of the hospital must marry with utilities that are installed by the other projects," says Gourley. "(These projects) were designed by two different architects and engineers, so we have to make sure that everything ties together."

When the project moved into its excavation phase, significant blasting was needed. Again, careful planning was required due to the proximity of other hospital facilities.

"We had to meet with hospital officials to develop a plan for blasting," says Ben Huffman, senior project manager with Skanska. "We blasted two different times during the day, so we had to ensure the surgeons weren't doing any delicate surgery during the blasts. We could then bulk excavate."

The cancer hospital is one level lower than any of the other hospitals. Excavation reached 30 feet below grade and was 25 feet off the face of the existing North Carolina Neurosciences Hospital.

"The blasting and the excavation were challenging to make sure we weren't impacting the patients or the structure itself," adds Huffman.

From October 2006 until February 2007, Cadence Structures poured the concrete foundations. The majority of the building is on a 5-foot matt foundation that is approximately 25,000 square feet.

The cancer hospital is cast-in-place concrete up to the penthouse level, which is structural steel. Skanska is using a Peri table system to pour the flat slabs for the floors; each floor is poured in three phases to five phases and takes approximately a month to complete. Portions of the foundation and slab work are on hold until the hospital purchases its high-tech equipment.

"We're responsible for the infrastructure that supports the high-tech equipment," says Huffman. "That's a challenge because the technology changes so quickly the hospital won't purchase any of that equipment until as late as possible. We have troughs, penetrations and overhead supports that will accommodate that equipment. We're pouring some slabs later to give the hospital flexibility when they purchase equipment. We don't want to rough in for one thing and then change when the hospital buys something different."

The cancer hospital will feature a precast exterior with ribbon windows. The main elevation on the west side of the building is long-span curtain wall. This is where the pedestrian bridge will tie in. On the south and east elevations the first three levels are brick. The stair towers are precast and curtain wall, and the elevator shafts are brick. In all there are seven different types of façade material incorporated in the hospital's design. An interior courtyard, open floor space and a skylight allow lots of natural light into the building.

"The design team focused a lot of attention on patient comfort and making the hospital a more soothing and welcoming environment for patients and their visitors," explains Huffman.

The North Carolina Cancer Hospital project is also unique because it is a pilot project for a program called the Green Guide for Healthcare, which is similar to the LEED Rating System but focuses specifically on green building strategies for health care facilities.

"The hospital is looking at this project as a test case for which of those environmental performance strategies makes sense within their operations and which don't," explains Gourley. "This (pilot project) will give them a baseline for moving forward on future facilities."

Because Skanska USA Building Inc. is also an ISO 14001 certified company, it has also established a significant environmental management plan for the project. This plan includes storm water management and erosion control "beyond what you would typically see," says Gourley. "Because we're so close to an existing hospital, noise and vibration are also a big concern. We are recycling all of the construction waste from the site as well as the office waste."

The project is on schedule and going well. UNC Hospitals executives are pleased.

"We think it's going very well," says Mary Beck, senior vice president of Planning and Program Development. "We've had some challenges and some things we continually work on together. The construction is moving ahead in a timely way and we're addressing those challenges in a positive way."

"Although no project is perfect, this is the best one we've ever had in terms of coordination, results and schedule," adds Melvin Hurston, senior vice president of Professional and Support Services. "It's also the most difficult project we've ever done."

The North Carolina Cancer Hospital, which has a construction value of approximately $145 million, is scheduled for substantial completion by July 2009 and a grand opening by December 2009.


Visit to read these stories about hospital construction projects in other parts of the country:

Michigan Contractor & Builder, February 5, 2007: Providence Park Hospital Construction Proceeds

Construction Digest, January 22, 2007: Thanks For The Lift

Pacific Builder & Engineer, February 6, 2006: Fitting In