Louisville, Ky. – It was a little over a year ago, Veterans Day 2021, that the first shovels kicked off work on the Louisville VA Medical Center during a groundbreaking ceremony. Now, with 20 percent of the scheduled construction time passed, work is taking place on almost every inch of the 34-acre site.
Area residents and those passing by on the adjacent I-264 have seen what was an open field turn into a bustling center of activity as construction work like major earthwork operations, utility installation, and laying the foundations of the main hospital and north parking deck are well on their way.
Tim Hitchcock, USACE area engineer for the Louisville VAMC project, said while it may appear to be a slow process to onlookers, work on many different aspects of the construction continues to ramp up.
“Over the past year, the site has transformed from a grass-covered pasture to a construction site which is making progress across the entire parcel,” he said. “Major features of earthwork have been accomplished which has seen the site rise in areas approximately 10 feet and basements and substructures being excavated deep into the ground. The hospital and north parking garage are also taking shape and are being constructed vertically which is visual proof of the progress of the project.”
Tara O’Leary, Deputy Chief, Veterans Affairs Division and Louisville VAMC Project Manager, said getting to this point has taken a lot of prep work on the site.
“Much of the work until the last few months has been subsurface. That included building subsurface stormwater storage to control flow of stormwater offsite into the I-264 drainage channels, removing subsurface rock, installing close to 700 drilled piers and other building foundations,” she said. “The first feature that passers-by probably saw were the basement walls of the east bar of the main hospital going in.”
Working on such a large-scale project has had its share of challenges and successes, all of which have provided opportunities to fine-tune processes to achieve successful outcomes, O’Leary said. One of those challenges has been ensuring the work can continue as the country sees supply chain issues.
“We have been able to work with the contractor, and within the terms of the contract, to be able to mitigate impacts from supply chain issues (e.g., concrete, materials, workers, etc.). To date, this project has not been impacted by these issues as many other projects in the USACE portfolio have,” she said. “On a given day, concrete is being provided from three plants, and materials are being acquired and stored on and off-site for future features of work.”
Some supplies have been produced as part of the construction work through the reclamation of soil and rock from earlier excavation activities.
“The contractor has successfully been processing the existing site materials to reuse on-site as fill materials and/or cover for the haul routes. This included sorting the excavated material into rock and soil stockpiles and crushing the rock that has been removed from the site,” O’Leary said. “This was a win for the community because it reduced the number of construction trucks in and out of the site to haul out onsite materials and bring in new materials.”
As work progresses, being the best neighbor possible to local residents has been a top priority. One way to do that has been to keep lines of communication open to community members.
“Anytime a project of this magnitude is constructed, impacts to the community are unavoidable. USACE successfully established lines of communication for the community before the project even started which have proved beneficial as construction progresses for the neighbors to contact us with questions and concerns,” O’Leary said.
“One of the major lessons learned so far is just how important “over” communicating can be. There are a considerable number of stakeholders for this project, and it is important that their voices are heard and that contract decisions are communicated to them,” Hitchcock said. “Regular meetings and established lines of communication have been critical to overcoming the challenges and will only become more important as time progresses.”
O’Leary credits her team’s dedicated efforts to the success of the project so far.
“With any new team, it takes time to build the team, to bring staff on board, learn each other’s processes, establish processes, etc. This will continue to be a challenge as the team will continue to grow but we are all committed to this project,” she said. “This is truly a unique project that will serve the veterans of the region for many years to come, and this project will also serve as a visual reminder of those veterans’ service to all those that drive by the intersection.”
With one year in the history books and another ahead, there is still a lot to do and a lot of changes to take place on the site.
“The structure for the main hospital building and the North Parking Garage will continue to rise out of the ground. The completion of the North Parking Garage in the next year is key to accommodating parking for the site workers because while the site is 34 acres, there are utilities and features of work being constructed which take up a substantial amount of space,” O’Leary said. “The site currently has approximately 150 workers on site on a given day and this number will continue to increase as the structures begin to be enclosed and more tradespeople are brought onsite to complete interior portions of the facilities.”
The $900 million project designed by URS-SmithGroup is being constructed by Walsh-Turner Joint Venture II, Chicago, Illinois.
The project includes the construction of a new 910,115 square-foot medical center, parking structures, a 42,205 square-foot central utility plant, roadways, sidewalks, and other site improvements.
Construction is anticipated to be complete in 2026.
To learn more about the project visit: www.va.gov/louisville-health-care/programs/new-robley-rex-va-medical-center.