Teams of construction workers carry out sensitive dusk-to-dawn projects at UTMB so well that they have the nickname “stealth crews.”
Few people see them. They leave no mess. And it’s business as usual at their worksites the next morning. By nightfall, they return and resume work.
“My biggest compliment is when no one knows we were there,” said Raymond Morales, construction manager for the university’s Business Operations and Facilities.
Afterhours construction is a specialty. Crews have limited time to work, and project managers must answer for any disruption to daytime operations. At UTMB, the latest project has kept about 4,000 patient appointments a week on schedule for the past year while the university renovates its largest outpatient care building.
Afterhours work prevents daytime disruptions in UTMB's University Hospital Clinics building, where about 800 patients a day go for treatment. At night, so-called 'Stealth crews" do building renovations.
Stealth crews work from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. in buildings where operations can’t be suspended or moved. The latest project involves adding modern life-safety systems in the seven-story University Hospital Clinics building in Galveston. Built in 1983, the building has about 50 outpatient clinics and ancillary services that treat upwards of 800 patients a day. The work area covers 180,000 square feet, almost the combined size of four football fields.
Managing the work takes careful planning, and lots of communication with contractors and building occupants, Morales said. Most projects are in clinical or research settings so the plan also must take into account patient and laboratory needs, health and safety standards, and the timetables of many contractors.
How well do the stealth crews do?
“I would give them an ‘A,’” said Casey Peterson, associate vice president of clinics operations, who is responsible for UHC. “The clinics had to be clean, tidy and ready for our patients, and Facilities did a great job of doing that.”
Life-safety systems include fire suppression devices such as sprinklers, dampers, alarms, and penetration seals. The retrofit is required so older buildings meet new safety codes.
Most of the safety components go overhead in ceiling space so the work shakes loose dust and other particulate matter. Crews need to adhere to infection-control standards and procedures set by the Centers for Disease Control and other regulatory agencies.
A complicating step involves setting up “negative air” systems. Workers must install plastic tenting in construction zones to capture dust and airborne contaminants. The tents can span corridors or encase whole rooms. Crews set up the tenting at night. By daybreak, they shut off the systems, fold their tents, and return the building to its owners.
Projects take about twice as long to finish because of the unusual work schedule, and daily setup and takedown, Morales said. “But you want to avoid disruption, and have seamless operations during the day, and no loss of revenue,” he said.
“Communication with the customer is a key,” said Morales. “If we see something that may disrupt everyday activities, we like to make the customer aware of it so that they can make changes or we plan accordingly with less disruption in mind.”
At the UHC building, Peterson said, managers set up a communications chain. “We communicated what would happen, when it would happen, and how it would happen. On occasions where there were some issues, we were able to address them quickly and without disruptions,” she said.
Construction personnel in afterhours projects have a lot of practice. They have already finished similar projects at the Clinical Sciences Building, Children’s Hospital, and Rebecca Sealy Hospital. Work at the UHC building is scheduled for completion in May.