Halfway through construction, the $2 billion Centre hospitalier de l’université de Montréal (CHUM) is a new breed of super hospital.

Designed by architects Cannon Design, the 22-storey building, with four basement levels, will provide over 349,000 square metres of  floorspace and will deliver 772 single-bed rooms, together with a new energy centre.

Being built as a public-private partnership (PPP), the consortium is led by British engineering firm Laing O’Rourke and Spanish building contractor Obrascon Huarte Lain. It is the largest social infrastructure PPP venture in Canadian history.

As the centrepiece of the Quartier de la Santé regeneration strategy, it will be a key element in redefining the city’s future vision and upon completion, it will be the largest French-speaking teaching hospital in North America.

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“Each hospital project has its own unique characteristics, and ours is its verticality,” project director Paul E. Landry told local media.

He argued that vertical displacement of patients is much better for an ageing population.

“If you have an injured hip or knee, or are in a wheelchair, you don’t want to have to traverse long distances from one end of the hospital to the other to reach a clinic,” he said.

The hospital will house no fewer than 65 high-speed elevators and a dozen escalators to cope with the “verticality” of the structure. Wait times for these elevators are expected to be no longer than two minutes and journey times are mere seconds.

Also making use of the high specification vertical transportation will be automated guided vehicles (AGVs). In what will be a Canadian hospital first, they will transport linen, food, dressings and bandages between the floors in special elevators hidden from public view in reserved logistic areas.

“As with all major hospitals, the MEP [mechanical, electrical and plumbing] elements are vital,” Landry said.

As part of the MEP strategy, the decision was made that none of the patient bathrooms be built on site. Instead, they are being delivered as prefabricated “pods” — each already fit out with their own sink, toilet and shower — to be installed in the corner of each patient room.

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A Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) approach has been fundamental to the design.

“Manufacturing and assembling systems offsite – installing straight on to the superstructure – ensures a higher standard and allows the interior works to be progressed immediately after the floor plate has been closed up,” said Laing O’Rourke’s senior design manager, Balwant Patel.

As is becoming more common worldwide, the project has utilized BIM. This has helped convince some partners and stakeholders that prefabricated elements were the right choice, the ability to clearly visualise the end result enabling quick sign-off on the different design stages.

Another innovation is the ventilation system and massive “heat wheels” which will collect the heat from the exhaust air during the winter, while keeping the indoor air clean and fresh. These heat wheels keep the operating costs of the ventilation system down.

From a structural and façade engineering perspective, the team has tackled what is Canada’s second largest curtain wall construction project ever.

Requiring one million square feet of curtain wall, Laing O’Rourke brought in six of the largest curtain-walling manufacturers in the world for individual workshops over the pre-tender period with the consultants.

“It meant we had 6 major subcontractors with an intimate knowledge of our requirements, the design parameters and the inherent challenges of the project before we even went out to tender, therefore enabling our designers to develop their design with expert input,” Patel said. “That was integral to developing the performance specification – vital for ensuring the facade copes with Canadian extremes of winter and summer.”

From the project’s infancy, innovative thinking and techniques have been called upon to solve significant onsite challenges – especially as the hospital takes up every inch of the site.

Over the summer, a steam main, which now carries 42,000 pounds of steam at a pressure of 112 pounds per square inch, had to be erected across the live construction site from the working hospital to a new research facility located opposite the project.

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Creating a temporary pre-fabrication area on top of the site’s energy centre, the MEP team assembled the pipe systems and used cranes to hoist them into place as the groundworks and frame operations continued onsite – accomplishing the entire feat three days ahead of schedule.

The splitting of the site provided another significant structural challenge. The two buildings – the Research Facility and the new CHUM hospital itself – needed connecting and so a tunnel under the road was proposed as part of the project design. This required closure of the Montreal’s major road artery in order to actually build this subterranean thoroughfare.

Front-end client relationship management helped secure a three-month road closure and the tunnel was completed five days ahead of schedule, prior to the Montréal Grand Prix and the commencement of the famous Montréal festival periods over the summer.

Once work is complete, approximately 345,000 outpatients, 22,000 inpatients and 65,000 emergency patients will be seen at CHUM every year.

The first phase containing all the patient rooms, the intensive care unit and operating room, among other departments is expected to be completed by April 2016. The second phase will include the ambulatory care centre, administrative offices and an amphitheatre for medical students and is scheduled for completion at the end of March in 2020.