General Excavating Tackles University of Nebraska Medical Center's Largest Project to Date
Constructing the $323 million Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in Omaha, required significant utility relocation and site work, successfully completed by General Excavating.
"It was an extremely congested area of the campus that was full of existing underground utilities that had to be worked around," says Brian Egr, Project Manager for General Excavating of Lincoln, Nebraska.
The 615,000-square-foot cancer center is the largest project ever for the University of Nebraska Medical Center, according to the cancer center. HDR of Omaha designed the center, which includes a 10-story research tower, a 108-bed hospital and an outpatient center. By collocating research and clinical space, the university hopes for greater collaboration and new discoveries in cancer care. The project received $50 million for the research tower from the Nebraska Legislature, $35 million from the city of Omaha, and $5 million from Douglas County. Additional funds were raised from the private sector.
"It was an extremely deep excavation in some areas, and it required coordination to get the utilities installed in a congested area, with an operating hospital," adds Joe D'Amico, Vice President of General Excavating. "It was a difficult job on a small site."
Employees are Most Important Asset
General Excavating celebrates 30 years in business this year. The company works throughout the Midwest and continues to grow. It places an emphasis on safety and strives to provide clients with the best value possible.
"We have a mantra to do what is right, and make sure the customer and employees are happy," D'Amico says. "Our employees are our number one asset. Without them, we do not have a company. We want to be around for generations to come."
General Excavating's scope of work for general contractor Kiewit Building Group of Omaha included construction of a sanitary sewer and a storm sewer, excavation and backfill for hydronic piping, excavation and backfill for electrical duct banks, excavation for a pedestrian tunnel and hourly digging for other contractors on site, which was located on the side of a hill.
"The site utility performed on this project was, by far, the most complicated and difficult underground work that Kiewit Building Group has been a part of in recent history," said Phil Spencer, Project Manager for Kiewit, in a letter to General Excavating. "We could not have selected a better company to work with on this difficult underground work."
The cancer center contract was a little unusual, Egr reports, because Kiewit hired General Excavating for all of the site and utility work, rather than each trade using an excavating contractor to complete its various scopes of work. That helped avoid conflicts between subcontractors on the tight site and reduced the number of civil contractors at the job, Egr adds.
"There was a lot of coordination," Egr says. "Everybody played nice for the most part. It turned out pretty well."
General Excavating vetted the design and completed value engineering, and offered material and alignment alternatives before starting the work. For instance, the company recommended tying together two sewers that needed to be lowered to make room for the tunnel, which saved money.
"We came up with some alternative options on some things," Egr says.
Working Around Potential Conflicts
The work began in November 2013 and wrapped up late in 2016. The phased work took place through the winter, as crews dealt with cold, frozen soil and wet conditions.
"It's probably the longest duration project we have ever had," Egr says. "A lot of our people have worked on it. There was an overall team effort that went into it. The guys took ownership and did a good job."
General Excavating completed extensive pre-planning with Kiewit and other trade contractors and coordinated utility outages with the university. That included working Sunday nights to accommodate outages at a least busy time.
"You look ahead for potential conflicts with other trades or critical power supplying the hospital or a gas line," D'Amico says. "That's the ongoing "˜look ahead' and hazard analysis Kiewit and our guys were looking at."
The company developed a site-specific shoring plan for trench safety, which was shared with Kiewit and others as needed. Open excavations of more than 4 feet were benched and shored. In some cases, General Excavating cut down the side hill, so deep shoring was not needed. In other locations, General Excavating used slide-rail shoring, a dig-and-push trench shoring system, which is installed from the top down. Several of the excavations reached to a depth of more than 25 feet.
"You install it as you excavate to support the ground around your excavation, so the utilities and infrastructure can be maintained," Egr explains.
General Excavating installed exhaust scrubbing systems on its equipment to protect the air quality adjacent to the hospital's air vents. "It's a fancy muffler," Egr reports.
General Excavating performed 90 percent of the site work itself, logging nearly 20,000 hours on the project with no Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-recordable or lost-time accidents. All workers completed OSHA-required and company training prior to commencing work at the site. Crews also participated in Kiewit's project orientation safety training. General Excavating held monthly safety meetings and Toolbox Talks on site. The company retained the services of an outside safety consultant to monitor safety practices on the job.
"Kiewit does an excellent job with safety awareness," Egr says. "Our guys took it upon themselves to be aware at all times, take their time and think through it all."
D'Amico adds that he was pleased, "everyone went home safe. It was an extremely difficult project, with the site conditions, but kudos to Brian and his staff for being able to work in that environment. They did a fantastic job."