A Captain's role in an ACF build-out

Memphis District
Published April 6, 2021

IN THE PHOTO, (right to left) Operations Officer Cpt. Alex Burruss, Emergency Manager Steve Barry, Construction Chief Jim Wolff, Construction Manager Brian Cagle, and Contracting Officer’s Representative Randall Harms sit on a daily conference call to discuss Alternate Care Facility matters. (USACE photo by Jessica Haas)


IN THE PHOTO, Memphis District Commander Col. Zachary Miller (l) and Operations Officer Cpt. Alex Burruss (r) toured the former Commercial Appeal building April 29, 2020 for a progress update of what will soon become Memphis' only USACE-built Alternate Care Facility. Touring the facility with leadership was one of many responsibilities Burruss took on while at Memphis. (USACE photo by Vance Harris)


IN THE COLLAGE, photos of Cpt. Alex Burruss, his father, Maj. William Burruss, and their family during their time living here in the Memphis District when Cpt. Burruss’ father served as the district’s deputy commander.

Editors Note: April 6, 2020, was the day the Memphis District awarded a contract to build an Alternate Care Facility (ACF) at the Commercial Appeal building in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. The article below was written by Cpt. Alex Burruss, who at that time deployed to the Memphis District to work as an Operations Officer and assist with ACF projects and operations in both Wisconsin and Tennessee. This is his account of what he experienced while assisting the Memphis District with such an impactful project. 

At the onset of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the U.S.  Army Corps of Engineers. USACE collaborated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to develop a plan for the rapid expansion of COVID-19 treatment spaces. USACE assigned each of its districts an area of responsibility, and the districts integrated into the local and state response agencies within their areas of responsibility.

As local civil authorities conducted analysis and projected bed space requirements, USACE developed facility modification options for accommodating additional beds. Districts completed site assessments and provided project management support for converting existing buildings into alternate care facilities (ACFs). 

In April 2020, three weeks after the President declared a national emergency, the U.S. Army Engineer School (USAES), Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, deployed more than 30 Soldiers in support of the USACE response effort; Cpt. Alex W. Burruss was deployed to the Memphis District, USACE Mississippi Valley Division, Tennessee, for more than 60 days.

There, he assumed the role of the district operations officer. Once on-site, Burruss met with Deputy District Commander Lt. Col. Nathan A. Molica to learn about the Memphis District mission. Next, he joined the emergency management team as the operations officer, responsible for relaying information requirements between higher headquarters and teams in the field. The Mississippi Valley Division area of responsibility includes most of the State of Wisconsin, which requested multiple site assessments and the construction of two ACFs.

In addition, the Memphis District supported the Nashville District, Tennessee, by conducting site assessments and the construction of an ACF west of Jackson, Tennessee. Shortly after arriving in Memphis, Burruss deployed to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to observe the completion and handover of the Wisconsin State Fair Park ACF, West Allis, Wisconsin to the State. That ACF followed the arena-to-health-care concept, which involved constructing 10-foot-by-10-foot patient care spaces inside the open floor of the exposition center.

The project included the installation of an in-line oxygen system; modifications to heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems; and the construction of latrines, staff space, and a nurse call system. The facility provided the county of Milwaukee with an additional 500 nonacute-patient care spaces.

While in Milwaukee, Burruss, and a field team conducted a site assessment to construct an ACF at the Lotter House Correctional Facility. The rapid increase in COVID-19 cases within the prison system was a growing concern for the State, and the construction of an ACF at this facility would ease the staffing requirement created from transferring sick inmates to a traditional hospital.

Burruss noted lessons learned from the Wisconsin State Fair Park and Lotter House Correctional Facility ACFs and redeployed to Memphis. Once back in Tennessee, Burruss helped State officials coordinate the ACF buildout of the Commercial Appeal building, located near downtown Memphis. The State had acquired the building, which had housed an old newspaper-printing facility, with an 18-month lease. The site was ideal for ACF conversion because it was located next to the Memphis Hospital District and there was existing logistical support infrastructure.

The renovation involved significant effort, requiring the demolition of industry and commercial space and its conversion into patient care spaces. The State requested that USACE design the ACF primarily for nonacute COVID-19 patients. The facility now contains 401 patient care beds across four serviceable stories and a large warehouse area. It also contains space for medical staff to stabilize acute COVID-19 patients before transferring them to a hospital.

In addition to fulfilling his operations officer duties, Burruss was also integrated into the Commercial Appeal ACF project management team. He shared the lessons that he had learned from the Wisconsin State Fair Park ACF project. During construction of the Commercial Appeal ACF, he monitored progress, assisted with quality assurance, and conducted stakeholder engagements.

He ensured that the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, the State Facility Management Team, and the State Medical Team were situationally aware of the progress and features of the facility. During the first week of the project, Burruss helped integrate the 484th Forward Engineer Support Team–Advance, Huntsville, Alabama, into the project management team. The 484th provided expertise and technical oversight for the project.

The construction process was intricate and impressive. More than 60 different contracting companies worked on-site; many were local to the region and state. The construction team worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for 30 days — without any lost time due to injuries.

To save time, construction activities were completed in parallel, rather than according to the typical sequential schedules. Normally lengthy contract processes took days instead of months. By the end of the 30 days, nearly 200,000 project work hours had been amassed.

As the project neared completion, the State medical team requested additional work outside the original project scope. Consequently, the design team modified the original performance work statement, which had been based on the arena-to-health-care concept.  However, because the multi-floor concept is more complex than the standard model, the Commercial Appeal ACF required additional capabilities to meet medical staff requirements. 

The staff needed clean or “cold” space for breaks during shifts, and the space needed to be near the patient spaces and needed to include high-efficiency particulate air filtration and positive pressure,  allowing staff to remove personal protective equipment. This change required a formal modification to the contract. 

Regardless of the additional work, the Memphis District was able to grant the State beneficial occupancy of the facility. Beneficial occupancy allowed the State to prepare the ACF for patients by stocking supplies and training staff.

The additional work was completed on Jun. 9, 2020. This signified the end of the Memphis District role in the project and allowed for the complete turnover of the site to the State. Following the completion of his mission, Burruss redeployed to Fort Leonard Wood.