University of Virginia Medical Center was able to redesign and accelerate portions of a $394-million expansion project to meet demand for bed capacity brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Charlottesville facility opened 15 ICU isolation beds on April 2 on a 28-bed floor of the six-floor patient tower portion of the project. Three floors of the tower, which are roughly 25,000-sq-ft each, are tentatively scheduled to open by June with the remaining three held as a shell for future space.

“When [the COVID-19 pandemic] got on people’s radars, having this project that was already so close to completion made it the logical place to think about our options,” said Chris Pouncey, project manager with the school's facilities, planning & construction department. “Our construction and design partners started spit-balling ideas and concepts on how to create isolation wards in these units.”

Pouncey says the three floors were originally scheduled to provide a total of 84 ICU beds this summer, but to better accommodate the needs for COVID-19 care, the university decided to make the floors capable of negative air pressure.

Working with mechanical engineer BR+A and construction manager Skanska, the team found a way to use existing equipment to make roughly half of one floor an isolation ward. Pouncey says BR+A designed some rerouting that included using an existing fan to create an exhaust fan. He says the same design can be applied to the remaining floors. “It will require additional new fans, but the design concept is the same,” he added.

Pouncey says the exact completion date for each floor is fluid, but the goal is to open floors—or half floors—in multiple phases, as they are completed. “This has always been a multiphase project, and it’s become more so over the course of its life,” he said.

The 420,000-sq-ft expansion project designed by Perkins and Will also includes an emergency department, which opened last October and a floor of interventional spaces with labs, operating rooms and radiology, which opened at the beginning of the year.