UCHealth is moving mountains and plains to keep pace with Colorado’s prodigious population growth while further securing its standing as one of the state’s preeminent providers of health care.

Continuing its growth spurt along Colorado’s Front Range through the purchase or expansion of several existing facilities, the Aurora, Colo.-based nonprofit health care system (selected earlier this year as ENR Mountain States Colorado Owner of the Year for 2018) has embarked on new construction in some of the area’s fastest-growing communities. That includes Highlands Ranch, just south of Denver, where it will open a 357,430-sq-ft community hospital and adjoining 84,550-sq-ft medical office building, including a cancer center, early next year.

The $375-million project, designed by the Dallas and Houston offices of architect-engineer EYP, continues to build on a new strategy for UCHealth. The six-story, 87-bed complex uses a template design that standardizes key components—materials and spaces included—to accelerate project development, promote a consistent, familiar experience from venue to venue and visually brand the facilities.

Highlands Ranch is the second UCHealth community hospital to adopt the template concept, following the company’s $180-million, 210,000-sq-ft Longs Peak Hospital in Longmont, Colo., a 53-bed facility designed by EYP and completed in 2017. A third such project, the 153,000-sq-ft UCHealth Greeley Hospital and an accompanying 112,500-sq-ft outpatient medical center, designed by architect-engineer BSA LifeStructures, is due to come online next year.

“The idea is to pull forward the design from the previous facility, and the facility before that, rather than spend time rethinking every component from the start.”

– Mark Vaughan, Senior Vice President, EYP

Among its other functions, Highlands Ranch Hospital will support heart and vascular treatment, maternity and infant care, and surgical and emergency services. “The facility furthers our philosophy of bringing uniform, quality care closer to home rather than forcing longer drives to more full-service centers, except in cases of acute illness,” says Manny Rodriguez, chief marketing and experience officer with UCHealth.

Among other benefits, the prototype, developed by UCHealth and EYP, accelerates decision-making since planners don’t need to start from scratch with each new project. “Rather than hold four meetings about the configuration of patient rooms and bathrooms, we hold one, since we’re working with an established template,” says Sean Menogan, vice president of facilities, design and construction with UCHealth.

“A surgical department may be configured differently from facility to facility, but specifications for operating-room footprints, floor-to-ceiling heights, door locations and so forth remain the same,” adds Mark Vaughan, senior vice president with EYP. “The idea is to pull forward the design from the previous facility, and the facility before that, rather than spend time rethinking every component from the start.”

In addition to operating rooms, the prototype allocates standard dimensions for emergency department exam rooms, resuscitation rooms and nurses’ stations, among other components. Standard patient rooms measure 287 sq ft, bathroom included, and like other prototype spaces, were carefully vetted by caregivers and patients alike during planning, Rodriguez says.

Similarly, prototype materials and finishes are “100% identical on the exterior and 90% within,” says Menogan, who notes that both outdoor and indoor palettes combine brick and Colorado buff stone with wood laminates, sleek metals and vast expanses of high-performance, low-e glazing.

However, material quantities and locations may vary in accordance with the unique siting and massing of individual projects.

“Facilities aren’t intended to appear identical, but rather as members of the same family,” Menogan says. Located in suburban Denver, the Highlands Ranch project opts for a less rustic appearance, including lighter shades of wood than its more rustic counterparts in smaller, more rural areas, according to Rodriguez.

“We’ve used the analogy that even though a Starbucks in New York City isn’t going to duplicate a Starbucks in Paris, you still recognize you’re in a Starbucks,” he says.

Accordingly, the Highlands Ranch facility bears more than a passing resemblance to Longs Peak Hospital. Both exteriors, for instance, feature uniform rows of square aluminum panels colored and textured to resemble wood. Capping the Highlands Ranch medical office building is an arched metal roof edge that echoes an arched structural roof atop the Longs Peak facility, more than 60 miles away. The curvilinear roof element is fast becoming synonymous with UCHealth, denoting a cradle-to-grave continuum of care, says Rodriguez.

More Advantages

Similarities among prototypes don’t end there. Highlands Ranch Hospital, like other UCHealth community hospital developments, began with a departmental goal of achieving a total space average of about 2,000 sq ft per bed.

“If you were to divide the size of all hospital spaces, from lobby and nursing to food service and materials management, by the total number of patient beds, a really efficient hospital could achieve approximately 2,000 square feet, as compared to a more common benchmark of 2,500 square feet per bed,” Vaughan says.

“It’s a very lean, very aggressive target,” he acknowledges.

The Highlands Ranch hospital and medical office building, for instance, share a common lobby and elevator banks. The design promotes ease of access and the shortest path possible between buildings for staff and visitors.

“Larger facilities are not only more expensive but also sometimes less efficient, forcing staff to walk longer distances,” Menogan says.

In all, standardization of building spaces and components has allowed project team members to compress design schedules by up to three months, promoting earlier completion and occupancy, says Vaughan. As such, the approach serves UCHealth’s objective to quickly establish operations in growing communities, then expand as local populations flourish, Menogan adds.

Speed to market also helps UCHealth gain an early toehold in communities, a clear advantage given the highly competitive nature of health care today, says Michael Ross, senior project manager with Mortenson, the construction manager and general contractor on the Highlands Ranch project. At present, it is on track to meet a 24-month construction schedule that began in January 2017—an aggressive timeline, but not necessarily unique among health care facilities, Ross says.

Mortenson’s role as both CM and GC “is fairly standard, allowing a single entity to oversee the entire job while assuming a greater amount of risk,” Menogan says.

“As CM, we were involved in schedule development, constructibility, labor market, material procurement and methodologies to best deliver the project,” Ross says.

Prefab & Materials Pricing

The arrangement allowed Mortenson to better target pricing with subcontractors working on a design-assist basis during planning. The early presence of major trades, including MEP, glazing and steel, “helped ensure the architect only designed the building once, eliminating substitutions downstream,” Menogan says.

Early involvement of Mortenson and trades also helped UCHealth execute a fast-track schedule, including starting work on the foundation and site utilities before design of the enclosure was complete, Ross says. UCHealth was able to use extensive prefabrication for the facility’s enclosure and other elements, such as hospital bathrooms, he says.

“Facilities aren’t intended to appear identical, but rather as members of the same family.”

– Sean Menogan, Vice President of Facilities, Design and Construction, UCHealth

In addition to the time savings—about six weeks—prefabrication provided a higher degree of “labor certainty” in a market facing tight manpower constraints due to the region’s sharp growth, according to Ross.

NeoPod Systems in New Braunfels, Texas, fabricated 51 identical inpatient bathrooms, says Charles Lowry, senior construction administrator with EYP. Others, such as those for maternity rooms that couldn’t be easily prefabricated, were built by more conventional means.

Staged on moving dollies, erection began with the floor slab and deck, followed by a vertical framing system, ceiling, piping, floor and wall finishes, grab bars, sink, mirror and overhead lighting, plus shower heads. Each bathroom required a week to a week and a half to complete, although efforts overlapped as dollies moved from station to station. Once on site, they were lifted into openings on each floor via standard cranes, Lowry says.

South Valley Drywall, Littleton, Colo., prefabricated backup wall panels for the facility that included metal framing, sheathing and a fluid-applied air and weather barrier. After backup panels were hoisted into position and secured to form the exterior envelope, “Trades then finished them in brick, Colorado buff stone and/or composite metals assemblies in brick, per the design intent,” Lowry says.

Rather than construct an onsite stick system for exterior glazing, Alliance Glazing Technologies, Littleton, Colo., proposed prefabricating a unitized system in its manufacturing shop in Irving, Texas. Advantages included higher quality control in fitting the insulated units into aluminum framing members and installation of larger sections on the structure.

As the Highlands Ranch project nears completion, its hospital already is primed to accommodate additional growth. As with Longs Peak Hospital, the facility has shell space for additional beds, in this instance, 62 bed spaces on the 34,454-sq-ft top floor for a total build-out of 149 rooms.

“We built the envelope for those spaces in today’s dollars,” Menogan says. “We also can fit out the space in about six months, considerably less time than if we were starting from scratch.”