Miller Electric charges unique healthcare project:

During the last few decades, doctors and medical researchers have developed a promising new procedure called proton therapy that could revolutionize the way they treat cancer; it’s a new kind of radiation treatment, and it’s being offered at the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute. It is just the fourth proton facility in the United States and the only one of its kind in the Southeast. The institute expects to treat more than 1,000 patients by the end of 2007.

Located on the campus of Shands Hospital in Jacksonville, Fla., one of the nation’s leading teaching hospitals, the $30 million, 98,000-square-foot facility provides conventional cancer radiation treatment as well as the newer proton therapy. The facility includes clinics for pre- and post-therapy and treatment evaluation of cancer patients, planning suites, an infusion and anesthesia suite, psychosocial and dietary services and research and faculty offices. At capacity, the facility can treat up to 200 patients. In addition to providing patient treatment, the institute also provides patient and research support services.

In January 2003, the University of Florida broke ground on this state-of-the-art facility. After an international, state-mandated selection process, Perry-McCall of Jacksonville was selected to oversee the project as the general contractor.

“They had demonstrated a vast experience in the placement of large concrete structures, which was basically the key to making this project work,” said Miles Albertson, associate director for facilities, planning and construction at the University of Florida. “We needed a contractor who had the ability to form and place 6- to 13-foot concrete wall, floors and ceilings with tolerances only in the hundredths of an inch.”

The actual construction of the facility took more than 24 months, but with preplanning and programming, it was a five-year endeavor. There were numerous challenges in the construction. Proton facilities are built primarily below ground to take advantage of the earth’s natural shielding, and the original design for the institute called for the treatment area to be 30 feet below grade; however, during the initial stages of the project, it became evident that wasn’t possible.

Trusted partner

Miller Electric Co., Jacksonville, Fla., was the lead electrical contractor on the job. Miller electricians began working on the project in June 2004 and completed their part of the plan by May 2006. At the height of the project, the team peaked at 55 electricians.

“The project began as a design spec,” said Kevin Hayes, project manager from Miller Electric. “We began with a full set of drawings. The majority of the project was already [specified] out as far as what they wanted on the building. But as the project progressed, we added information, which resulted in different changes in the scope of the work to meet the anticipated completion date.”

Miller Electric installed the incoming electrical service, main distribution equipment, subpanels, power and lighting branch circuits, the voice/data and fire alarm system. They used Square D for the main switchgear and subpanels, Hubbell products for the switches and power outlets, Lithonia for the lighting and Wiremold wire basket cable trays.

From the start, Miller Electric team members realized they were facing enormous challenges. “Before we began working on the project, we spent several months reviewing all of the drawings,” Hayes said. “We had to plan how to deal with conduit step-ups and the gantries and how many levels we needed to bring it up.”

Hard to handle

“Our original goal was to have a similar floor plan and building construction as the first proton facility at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston,” Albertson said. “With the Boston facility, the construction team sank the building one floor in the ground to aid in radiation shielding. But with our facility, the water table was very close to the surface. Also, there were ruins of an old hospital building buried beneath the ground. This caused us to put the building on top of the ground, which resulted in a considerable increase in the concrete shielding necessary to protect people from radiation. It also required us to formulate a special concrete that isn’t normally available in Florida.”

The team at Perry-McCall came up with a plan to raise the treatment area to only 15 feet below grade while still containing the protons to avoid exposure.

“We saved the University of Florida about $3.5 million in sheet piling by just raising the building out of the ground,” said Dick Gilreath, project manager at Perry-McCall.

“We used massive amounts of concrete,” Gilreath said. The thinnest concrete wall in the proton area is 6 feet, and the thickest concrete wall is over 18 feet. The concrete ceilings are 8 feet thick with some as thick as 12 feet. Perry-McCall poured 5.1 million pounds of concrete in one day for a 1,300-yard concrete floor. The contractor used a total of 1,936 truck-loads of concrete for the project.

With the huge amount of concrete that had to be poured for the project, it was a major undertaking for the team from Miller Electric.

“We had to install the raceways in walls that were 12 feet thick,” Hayes said. “Getting the raceways through the massive concrete to their respective locations with the many concrete pours installed at different times was a major feat. There are roughly six miles of 2½-inch PVC conduit, six miles of 1¼-inch PVC conduit and another four miles of ¾- and 1-inch conduit throughout the mass concrete. And we had to install them at the precise location, so we wouldn’t delay the installation of the proton therapy equipment.”

Installing the floor duct in the concrete pours when those surfaces could be up to 18 inches thick also was difficult.

“We had to go in and cut and weld some of the floor duct to fit it in the way they wanted it installed,” Hayes said. “We had to raise it up with certain supports to support the wireway. We had certain tolerances that we had to meet.”

Miller Electric installed a Siemens Building Technologies MXL fire alarm system.

“We ended up installing fire alarm pull stations. There were fire alarm combination chimes-strobes and duct smoke detectors, a fire alarm panel and flow and tamper switches,” Hayes said.

The company also installed lay-in type lighting fixtures. The lobby had pendant fixtures, recessed and installed on a 45-degree angle. The hallway itself is at an angle, and all of the ceiling tiles had to be put in at an angle.

The amount of precision and technology to build the project required close collaboration among the project partners. During construction of the facility, more than 1,000 requests for information were written between the construction and design teams to ensure that the project was built without error and on schedule.

Hayes attributes the success of the project to effective communication with all the team members. “The people we had there did a terrific job relaying the information to the right people,” he said. “That made all the difference.”            

FEINBERG is a Florida-based veteran journalist with more than 20 years business writing experience. She may be reached at sdfe2@aol.com.