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Two contractors win VRCA awards for North Island Hospital Comox Valley project

Peter Caulfield
Two contractors win VRCA awards for North Island Hospital Comox Valley project

Two contractors have won 2017 Gold Awards of Excellence from the Vancouver Regional Construction Association (VRCA) for their part in the North Island Hospital Comox Valley (NIHCV) project.

The winners are Keith Plumbing and Heating Co Ltd. in the Mechanical Contractors — Over $8 Million category, and Houle Electric Limited in the Electrical Contractors — Over $8 Million category.

Located on the east coast of Vancouver Island in the small city of Courtenay, the NIHCV is 428,700-square-feet in area and five storeys high.

The facility opened on Oct. 1 and is unusual in that it is one half of "two campuses, one hospital" in the sparsely populated region.

The second half is the North Island Hospital Campbell River and District campus, which is 37 miles north of Comox.

The NIHCV has capacity for up to 153 beds. It replaces the century-old St. Joseph’s General Hospital, an aging acute-care facility.

The new hospital has been certified LEED Gold.

The Comox and Campbell River hospitals will use roughly half the energy of existing hospitals per square metre. In addition, green-house gas emissions will be reduced by 73 per cent.

The project was not without its challenges.

One of the biggest obstacles was building two new state-of-the-art facilities in two different communities at the same time. It required, says a NIHCV statement, "an incredible and innovative logistical response in terms of scheduling work with a finite supply of materials and skilled tradespeople."

Keith Plumbing and Heating’s mechanical work included a 5,000 kW cooling plant, 9,600 kW heating plant, a central air handling plant, plumbing and medical gas systems throughout the facility and prefabricated mechanical rooms, including a water entry station.

"The complexity and detail in the mechanical room and installation (make it) a work of art," commented the judges.

Keith Plumbing construction manager James Prattley said the NIHCV was a complex project.

"We took the engineers’ drawings, designed the pipe work in advance and then prefabricated it off-site," Prattley said.

"Most of the prefabrication took place in our North Vancouver head office because it was easier to construct the complex system in a controlled environment."

Starting with only a few electricians at the beginning of the project, Houle was able to increase its number of recruits by hiring more electricians who had recently relocated to the area.

"Training local electricians to prepare them for commercial work will also help the industry grow on Northern Vancouver Island," said the judges.

Houle’s part of the NIHCV project ran from August 2014 to April 2017.

"Obtaining labour was definitely a challenge for the project," said director of strategic projects Wayne Nielsen.

He said when Houle was awarded the electrical contract for the project, it could count on only about a dozen electricians working in the area.

"As an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) contractor, Houle could draw on approximately 50 more IBEW Local 230 electricians who were living in the area of the hospital," Nielsen said.

"Most of them had been away working on industrial projects in Alberta."

Although eager and enthusiastic about the opportunity to work close to home, the local electricians didn’t have a lot of experience on complex hospital construction.

"To deal with their inexperience, IBEW hosted skills development workshops for their members," said Nielsen.

"On the work site, Houle empowered young, up-and-coming electricians to take leadership roles with the support and mentorship of more experienced team members."

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