FLORISSANT, Missouri — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers partnered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the State of Missouri to convert a local hotel for use as an alternate care facility. USACE St. Louis District provided technical assistance and management of Tarlton Corporation and their subcontractors, as the team raced to finish the conversion to 120 patient rooms, four nurses’ stations, storage areas, a triage center, and meeting rooms spread over four floors within 79 hours of contract award.
With an unprecedented pandemic straining health care systems across the country and around the world, FEMA began a two-prong offensive for its American strategy: call upon the proven flexibility of USACE to design alternate care facilities and have each state identify their potential needs and sites.
USACE Commander Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite gave guidance to the leadership across the Corps to employ simple solutions for complicated problems and then gave them the authority to move quickly with accountability to assemble partners to be aggressive, lean forward, and anticipate challenges. The model for St. Louis: H2HC or Hotel to Health Care.
In the USACE St. Louis District, Commander Col. Bryan K. Sizemore identified his Project Management, Design, and Quality Assurance teams while the Missouri Governor dispatched the state’s National Guard to evaluate potential sites. Collaboration among St. Louis District’s design engineers and the medical community-- the end users of this site-- resulted in a tailored design criteria that allowed for further flexibility.
Col. Sizemore understood this would draw on every talent in the District. “This was the opportunity to show the nation what we can do as partners and teammates,” he said. “I had every confidence that the St. Louis District team could meet this challenge, and that our partners would be an important part of an exceptional success.”
Matt Vielhaber, a Project Manager in the St. Louis District, was selected to spearhead this project. “We had upwards of 70 people just on the Corps side supporting this mission all the way from the inception through contracting and onto the conclusion of this location,” said Vielhaber. “But the biggest role we had was to listen. We listened to what the end users were going to need. What will they see in the first 30 or 60 minutes with a patient? Does it change over the next week? We tried to give them what they would need to be successful.”
With the site selected in the City of Florissant in the northern portion of the St. Louis metropolitan area, a national modular design tailored to the local situation, and the design and construction procedures assembled within the District’s project management framework, it was time to select a construction partner.
Tarlton Corporation was selected as General Contractor, in a moment that seemed like Divine Intervention. Just hours before being awarded the contract, sibling owners Tracy and Dirk Elsperman were mourning their father Bob Elsperman, who died in a St. Louis-area hospital of complications related to COVID-19 at age 83. It turned a time of loss into reaffirmation of purpose.
Tarleton Executive VP and Professional Engineer John Doerr reflected on Bob Elsperman’s example through service to his company, his industry and his country. Says Doerr, “He spent his teen-age summers learning carpentry at Tarlton and graduated with a Civil Engineering degree from Purdue University, where he was in the Naval ROTC program. He served eight years in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, attaining the rank of Captain, before a career in construction that spanned nearly 70 years. His belief in service to others was passed down to his three children and our company.”
The USACE framework of “Site, Build, Supply, Staff” used for the hotel and arena conversions complement the FEMA response framework used in all emergency responses. The state provides the site, supplies and staffing while the Corps provides the time-sensitive design and build component. Making a hotel into a hospital-quality facility is no small task.
Maj. Daniel Strasser, a Mechanical Engineer for the St. Louis District, brought his military and construction engineering skills to the roof on the first day to relocate exhaust fans away from air intake vents and install block supports and vibration dampeners to meet the more stringent requirements for the site.
Quality contractors worked three and a half days with USACE technical experts around the clock to provide everything from electrical and HVAC assessments and changes to carpet replacement and task lighting.
The partnership grew quickly, and it was a team of professionals decidedly perfect for the mission at hand. For FEMA, it was further proof of their dedication to be prepared, responsive, and committed. For USACE, it was a call to apply its renowned mission to engineer solutions for the Nation’s toughest challenges. Missouri’s Governor, State Emergency Management Agency, Health Services, National Guard and Air National Guard units all stepped up to provide services and information for a complete mission scope. For Tarlton, the mission was supported by more than 100 highly skilled and thoughtful people from the design-build team and more than a dozen subcontractors.
Every member of the team brought their A-game to benefit their families, friends, neighbors and communities in this time of need… something each partner proudly provides every day.
As Matt Vielhaber said when asked by a reporter about the team on the ground: “Nobody’s too distant from the situation. This is not just a mission, but our community.”