Build Better Podcast

University turns dated convention center into nursing school

February 01, 2019 Season 1 Episode 1
Build Better Podcast
University turns dated convention center into nursing school
Chapters
Build Better Podcast
University turns dated convention center into nursing school
Feb 01, 2019 Season 1 Episode 1
Julie Pithers
University takes chance on unfamiliar building method to see if they can renovate a civic building into a health sciences campus; on budget and on time.
Show Notes Transcript

The remote town of Taos is fiercely proud of their adobe architecture. So, when the local university bought the abandoned convention center for one dollar, they had a lot of “input” from the citizens. To say nothing of the task of turning it into a 21st century health sciences campus with the infrastructure their students needed.

Watch the amazing transformation that preserves the adobe structure while transforming the interior into a modern health sciences school. 

Speaker 2:
0:04
hello and welcome to Build Better. I'm your host Julie Pithers. This podcast comes to you from DIRTT, DIRTT, has 2 Ts and is an acronym for doing it right this time. DIRTT builds custom prefab interior spaces from the design you create in a video game experience. The point is to make design and construction faster, cleaner, more certain, and with better outcomes. In today's show we travel to the remote and beautiful town of Taos, New Mexico. Taos is a famous tourist destination because of its heritage, adobe architecture captured by artists like Georgia O'Keeffe. It's also home to the Taos Pueblo a UNESCO World Heritage site. It's a multistory adobe village that's been continuously inhabited for over a thousand years. Then you've got the mountains and the desert, which includes the spectacular Rio Grande. Even with all that, house is not an economic powerhouse. It's a two and a half hour drive. North from Albuquerque has a small population and an average household income of $32,000. So getting things built isn't easy. Today. You'll hear from a team at the University of New Mexico. The school needed a proper health sciences campus in Taos. When the town's old and unused convention center was made available virtually for free, the UNM team had to decide if they could beat the odds and turned it into a state of the art school for healthcare providers.:
Speaker 3:
1:28
Hello, my name is Jim Pollard. I was the senior construction manager, project manager for this particular project. The interesting part that started out was I was a member of the planning and Zoning Commission in the town of Taos at the time. And the possibility came up that the building might be for sale. We couldn't afford it. The town had hit the 2008, 2009 recession, you know, like a bulldozer slamming into a brick wall and found themselves with a convention center that didn't work. Nobody wanted to attend and was costing about a half a million dollars a year just to keep it open. Between the former mayor and our executive director. At the time Dr O'Neill, everybody kinda got together and found a way for us to take the building off of the town's hands. We actually purchased the building from them for a dollar and then took full responsibility for it.:
Speaker 3:
2:35
The project, I believe in the end cost total with everything in it, just about $4 million dollars. The building construction part was about 2.4, so it wasn't as if we got a gift and it was free. The building had been unused for about two years at the time we took it over. We came in one day to try and a final determination. People had looked at the building a couple of times and thought it was not going to work. And somehow a local architect who ended up doing the job for us, Doug Patterson from Living Design Group. And I came in with Dr O'neill and Dr Hewlitt from UNM and we knew a little bit about DIRTT. We'd seen a lot of pictures and I think Doug had actually visited an installation. it looked like an interesting concept, but we came in one day and we saw the building in our minds for the first time as an empty shell. Itwas almost like a blank easel in a sense, in that the way we pictured it that day, we were able to stand there and we could see all of the classrooms and all of the offices and the hospital eventually that we were looking for and it clicked.:
Speaker 3:
3:53
I think that had we not been familiar with the DIRTT system at that point in time and interested enough to move forward this would've never happened. I came later in the process to recognize how different the construction process is with DIRTT. I mean maybe I was sheltered, I didn't see enough, but this was really very revolutionary to just build a shell furnish a fixed floor fixed at a height and provide a ceiling and and what I'll call really rough-in the utilities. By distributing power and data to various distribution points rather than having to feed them into a wall and get them wired. This was unheard of.:
Speaker 2:
4:42
With taxpayer dollars on the line. Jim and Doug Patterson, the architect, did not get immediate buy in for this fairly new approach to construction. There was pushback.:
:
4:55
Even I was very leery at first until I could see it. I've been blessed in my career over the years of being able to be introduced to new technologies and see how they could be applied. And I've always liked being a risk taker in that sense. So this was a risk for, for Taos a risk for UNM at the time or department of Development and construction had looked at the system a number of different times, but never really made the commitment. They never made the jump to go ahead and do it. I think for them, we were at least a little bit of a Guinea pig, but we made the commitment to use the DIRTT system before we had the money to do the project. And before we had purchased the building, it was sort of a. We lined up the building, we lined up how we thought the deal could work.:
Speaker 3:
5:48
We thought we could see the money coming from the voters. If we waited another 11 months, we could get onto the general obligation bond ballot in and we thought we had the right friends at the university board of regents and so it took a while to put this all together and in the meantime we had another building going on at our south campus, which didn't involve as much DIRTT. Equipment is this did, but it was a real eyeopener to be able to, at the very last minute, change that design to a DIRTT system, without a burp in the whole construction process. At that moment. We got a design, we got it delivered in five months later. We were installing a, this isn't all about a year, maybe 15 months before this particular building got built. So we had some opportunity to learn. We had some opportunity to really see how easily the system could go together and it was everything I hoped for at least the, the assembly went very, very quickly, relatively painless. Saying it's a design outside of thinking outside the box I think is really not the right statement necessarily. I think this was just thinking outside, not outside the box. There's, this is really eyeopening.:
Speaker 4:
7:12
And Jessica Sanchez. I'm the project manager for UNM Taos Construction Project Manager for UNM Taos. Five years ago I had another project with the architectural firm I was working with and we decided to use DIRTT for ease of construction. It was a really fast track project. It was through the summer for the high school. My boss suggested we need something that it's really easy to install and we can, you know, flip it in 50 days. We look at DIRTT. He went on a training for DIRTT, he went to Calgary and then he came back with the idea we are going to use it for this project. And we installed I believe 25 classrooms with DIRTT.:
Speaker 5:
7:56
Hi, I'm Barb Wiard. I'm the administrative assistant for the school of Nursing. Our physical space is huge, not only for attracting the faculty, but more I think for the students to feel that they're in a professional building, that they're actually going to college, that this is a university. Our previous office was kind of makeshift. It was very small and cramped, minimal technology. We went from the shack up to the Taj Mahal.:
Speaker 6:
8:31
I'm Melissa Wohltman and I'm the director of the nursing program and I'm also the area coordinator for all of the health sciences programs. Nursing is a really complicated profession these days and I think that, you know, sometimes even some of our students come into the program thinking that they like working with people and they think they're caring individuals and so that's really gonna make a good nurse and it does, but the reality is that it takes a lot of work around learning how to work in a highly technical environment where the stakes are very high and where you really need to be able to have great communication skills and work as an essential member of a team. Nursing education is expensive from an institutional perspective and we're very aware of that here. This is an expensive program, but in order to meet the requirements for national accreditation, which is something that our nursing program is lucky enough to have, requires a huge level of commitment on the institution's part, on the faculty's part, on the student's part, and having the right space to be able to implement a very complex and intense curriculum is really necessary in order to meet those standards and to have a high quality program.:
Speaker 6:
9:58
One of the great things about moving into this building with all of our health sciences programs under one roof is that we've really been able to focus on both growing the programs but also doing some interdisciplinary education, which is really a very kind of, of the moment cutting edge, especially in, in health sciences because when you get out into the workforce, you work in teams.:
Speaker 7:
10:24
My name is Josh Wright. I am a paramedic and an EMS educator. The EMS emergency medical services. I am the primary instructor for EMS here at UNM Taos, and I'm also the program director for EMS education. Getting this new space was sort of simultaneous with really creating a full on ems education program and I think those components together have made it so that we, we are filling every class:
Speaker 6:
10:53
when we have people that visit us, our, you know, our colleagues from other places in New Mexico, they're are jealous of our space. And so being able to offer that to faculty is really, I think gives us a little bit of an edge when we're trying to attract new faculty members:
Speaker 7:
11:11
and there's people coming up from Santa Fe and Espanola and from other areas they're commuting to take classes here when, you know, Santa Fe has a great community college there and I don't want to disparage them at all. They have a great EMS program. But we've, we've got a lot of students coming up here from, from Santa Fe to, to take our classes. And I think that speaks to the space and to the program that we're building and the program that we're building is so integrated with the space that we have to do it in that, you know, I think they, they work together.:
Speaker 6:
11:42
I can't overemphasize the importance of that. And it was actually having never really moved into a brand new building that was designed with input from faculty and students. It is absolutely amazing what a difference it makes being in a space that's conducive to education. So I think first and foremost for the students, it gives them a sense of how important they are when students walk into a building that was designed with a lot of thought put into what was really going to benefit their education. The fact that we're able to have this beautiful simulation lab that's totally miked and camera-ed so that when students are doing simulations, the remaining students can be in the classroom observing that simulation. We all come back together at the end of it and do our debriefing, which really is where a lot of learning takes place. Has been... It's been really eyeopening for me to see how important that is.:
Speaker 4:
12:45
That's really, it's really impressive to me that, ethat I was part of this project and that we created such high end environment for the nurses to learn and that we are preparing these, these people for to serve us. You know, in our community, in the, in the healthcare industry. I'm, I'm really proud of what we did.:
Speaker 7:
13:13
Our primary ambulance services, Taos County EMS, and there's a number of smaller fire departments and stuff that, that, that cover different areas of the county. All of these departments have to be staffed with trained people. This is the kind of profession where a lot of people will move on and move up or just move away. And because of that type of turnover, there's, there's always a demand for quality training and trained individuals:
Speaker 6:
13:42
or the state of New Mexico is huge but very sparsely populated. And while we have concentrated educational institutions in the big cities like Albuquerque and Los Cruces, higher education, post-secondary education is really lacking in the more remote rural communities to be able to offer high quality programs in a beautiful building in a rural community like Taos I think has been a big boon to the community as well.:
Speaker 2:
14:13
When this idea of converting the convention center into a health sciences school was first floated, the Taos citizens were deeply concerned it let it be known, this renovation better not threaten the adobe look and feel of the building and their beloved downtown.:
Speaker 3:
14:29
It's interesting cause I said around the planning and Zoning Commission and I'm fighting all the time with the fact that we are dealing with all these heritage buildings with historic buildings and a community that really treasures historic buildings. But that doesn't help us with what's inside the building and how we occupy those buildings, how we use those buildings, how we live in those buildings.:
Speaker 6:
14:55
What was really amazing to me was that during the open house, we had people from all walks of life in the community. I think some of them coming just to see what was going on here, you know, and almost across the board what we got was incredible pride and positive feedback about what had been done to this building because it looks so completely different on the inside the outside, we maintain that beautiful sort of historic adobe facade, but the inside of the building was completely transformed.:
Speaker 5:
15:31
People are blown away that in a small area, a small region, small town like Taos with a small school with 16 students that we have the state of the art high tech building that is so professional and projects such a university feel because it is, and they are blown away that this exists in Taos.:
Speaker 7:
15:59
It increases pedestrian traffic for the whole area. You know, I think it, it brings a learning community into the center of town, which is, which is really cool. You know, Clower campus, our main campus is way out of town. People have to drive a ways to get there. So here there's a bus that stops right out front. I think it's really benefited the whole area and the downtown Taos:
Speaker 2:
16:23
during the construction of the nursing school doubt, still hung in the air. This was going to be a high tech and high touch working simulation lab, the remote location and sparse population of the area. That means it's difficult and expensive to build or renovate anything in Taos. Even the skilled trades who do live in the area have a tough time bidding on large projects like this because they aren't large enough themselves.:
Speaker 3:
16:49
The county is only 30,000 people. I would think the town itself, technically maybe 6,000, at this moment. We don't have any contractors in the immediate area who can afford to issue performance bonds for a project of this size. Bonding is a real critical process and all commercial and institutional construction, but the, the people who write those bonds like to make sure that that general contractor has enough assets in case something goes wrong. So typically all of the contractors had to be brought in from outside. They hired a few local people. All our plumbing and HVAC contractor was able to bond up for his participation, but otherwise everybody came in from Albuquerque, so it made the project even that much more expensive. Everybody had to stay overnight. It was good for the town's economy, for lodging and food, but it cost us in the end.:
Speaker 3:
17:48
Typically I think of commercial construction is the cheapest construction possible in terms of the quality that you get. Yet it's the most expensive. There's something wrong in that technique and it's probably related to the administration or the overhead costs and all of the various subcontractors and things that go into it. That's why I believe that this really knocked things down by knocking the period down from two months to a day and a half to put all of this together. The planning was put to the subcontractor, to the manufacturer of the DIRTT system. All of the planning, not just the walls and the manufacturer, but the design of the electrical systems, the data systems that gas systems. That's work we didn't have to do other than the original specification. It's work we didn't have to worry about or monitor as we were going through the process. For the most part it's work. We didn't have to check,:
Speaker 4:
18:44
It eases the construction phase, especially in the design phase two because DIRTT takes portion of the design within their software and helps the architect with the layout and see how things are going to be at the end and from the construction portion is just so easy to have all the materials in place, in, within a week we can have a complete project. So that's phenomenal. It's just incredible that you can do that.:
Speaker 3:
19:16
I made a trip to Phoenix, must have been January of 2014 with the first part of the project. So I saw the factory I saw. The software was impressive. I won't give my age away, but my first job out of school was a programming, a numerically controlled machine tools, which I'm embarrassed to say was sort of point to point things went to here and then they went to there and I thought I was the smartest person I knew at that point in time. So the, the factory itself was a marvel to me. I wanted to stay there the whole time and, and go back into my original manufacturing background, but I saw the software there and the first thing that struck me about it was the fact that it was going to be not only was easier to design in that the software was already done, but it was gonna be, um, easier to check, easier to specify what we needed and easier to go through a submittal once the drawings were completed and finished.:
Speaker 3:
20:31
It was a different way to look at the submittal drawings. It was almost as if, well being inside a virtual reality system, if you like, you could go in and look at each room and look at each outlet, look at each fixture, look at the height, look at the color, look if the lines lines are important, whenever you're building something. And I'm looking around now to see if they all line up. And for the most part they do, was much simpler to see them this way. Then to see them in the traditional ink and paper situation. So easier for us to catch a lot of things that we didn't see. We were probably making corrections up to the second week before we released the order because it's an existing building and we didn't have all our as-built dimensions and we had a few things that just needed to change it from a contractor's point of view.:
Speaker 3:
21:26
And I think you'll find from our architects point of view, it was so much simpler and and error free. I think the biggest surprise at all for me was how it affects the construction cycle. To strip this, building a change over all of the utilities, bring the power and bring the, the data and power distribution, locate the water wherever we needed to. And then decide one day this is what we were ready for the carpet and we were ready for the ceiling grid. Maybe that process took about two and a half weeks or so. This is totally out of sync because we should've been building walls at this point. We should have been running wire and pipe and gas through all of the walls. But when we pulled the trigger with DIRTT, at that point, we already had the, the order of the contract to say, this is a firm date.:
Speaker 3:
22:20
This has done two weeks, two and a half weeks later, two semis pulled up one morning, think there was a third truck with a lift that was attached. Literally by noon the following day they were packing up all the crates and all but one person left. And the 15,000 square feet was really the way you see it right now. Just incredible. This so revolutionizes the process. I'm pretty sure we took six months on the project to, from the day we started to strip the building and get everything in and commission all of this equipment that you see, we could not have done that in that time without DIRTT. I really believed that this day that in this small space at least we cut about two months out of the construction process and it's always hard to put a price on that. And we ended up with a finish that we could not have done or afforded perhaps had we gone with a traditional framing:
Speaker 4:
23:25
The finishes make a big difference, you know, it makes the space sophisticated instead of just having regular gyp that everybody sees is just like, oh, it's glass, it's wood, it's colors, you know, it just makes the space nicer. The key to keeping the budget on track for this method of prefab construction is getting:
Speaker 2:
23:46
the trades to understand their scope of work and until they go through one of these projects, it's hard to get their heads around just how much labor will be reduced and yet makes it more profitable for them.:
Speaker 3:
23:59
Well, for a couple of months, the expression passed down from the, the sort of superintendent level down to the average apprentice who might be working on the job, which was you're going to do what and total consternation at the fact that they weren't going to bring the wiring over to a switch into a box that would be nailed to a stud. That somehow it was going to either go to a box in the ceiling or go to another box in the floor and that somebody else would take it from there. That was a real, real shock to people who've grown up with a traditional way of the way we've been building for almost 100 years. So I think they got more and more anxious as we got closer and closer because they really couldn't get themselves a measure of what the finished product gonna look like, how somebody going to a attach to what we're gonna do and how are they going to work all the bugs out of it.:
Speaker 3:
24:56
You know, there's a, there's always a commissioning sort of process where once you've got your construction finished, you now have to run through a couple of weeks or a month or so of making sure everything works. Everything is wired up properly and they didn't have to do anything. They really were done with the portion that was affected by DIRTT in the system months earlier than they originally thought they would be. But that didn't stop their curiosity because we had difficulty once we got it up here and the whole time we were sort of commissioning it with all the electricians and all of the HVAC people hanging around wanting to see how well this worked. In the end, they all became great supporters. They couldn't quite picture where else in this community at least something this big might take place, but there will be places. This is a great application, a great. It's a great, great application.:
Speaker 2:
25:53
Now that the school is up and running, the university can take advantage of the followup benefits of the system. It's not only engineered for a faster build out, it's designed for disassembly and repurposing. When the nursing school brings in new technology, the facilities department easily accesses the wall cavities.:
Speaker 3:
26:13
Oh yeah. This is really very, very adaptable and easy to work with and you can make a big major mistake and order a new panel pop off the old panels and change your wiring and your back in business in just a couple of hours. Once you've got all the parts here:
Speaker 4:
26:28
and we had to provide a new office for the new CEO and we use DIRTT in that, in that particular section, we went back to ICE with my project manager and we said, okay, we need to move these and these walls, and it was fantastic. Like just in few moves, we had the complete new layout and in three days I had a complete new office.:
Speaker 6:
26:53
It's really fantastic to know that, number one, if we increase the size of our program, increase our enrollment, we're able to accommodate those additional students in the space. And then just the flexibility of the space allows for us to have group work. It allows for us to bring students in from other programs to work with our current students. So it's super important.:
Speaker 4:
27:19
I don't want to blow your horn too much, but I, I would do it again in a heartbeat, you know, as many times as possible. This is a great way to build. I hope you enjoyed this edition of build better. If you have ideas for future shows regarding anything about the built environment, how it affects people or the planet, please drop them on the podcast. Main page. Thanks for listening.:
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