The $840 million project includes a new medical center, a central utility plant, roadways, sidewalks and other site improvements. It replaces the aging Robley Rex VA Medical Center on Zorn Avenue.
(Michael Maddox, USACE Louisville District photo)
Designed to provide a safe, healing environment for local veterans, Kentucky's Louisville VA Medical Center will integrate modern patient-centered care concepts when it opens in 2026. The $840 million project, located off Brownsboro Road along the Watterson Expressway, includes a new medical center, a central utility plant, roadways, sidewalks and other site improvements. It replaces the aging Robley Rex VA Medical Center on Zorn Avenue.
"The size and scope of this project is truly amazing," said Robley Rex VAMC Executive Director Jo-Ann Ginsberg. "When the VA MISSION Act of 2018 was passed, it mandated a couple of important changes to VA infrastructure. First, our footprint must align with the needs of our veterans. Second, our facilities must help us meet staff recruiting and retention goals. Ultimately, a new hospital speaks to the core of these tenets, and it will help us achieve our overall mission of ensuring the best possible healthcare for our patients.
"Once completed, the new hospital will have more than 972,000 square feet of space, with 2,600 parking spaces," said Ginsberg. "These are substantial increases from our existing facility. This increased capacity includes a Women's Health Clinic, which will allow us to offer comprehensive care to our women veterans. As this segment of the veteran population continues to grow, so too will the amount of women's services that we provide."
The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Louisville District serves as the design and construction project manager. This role includes design, contracting services and project management services from construction start to completion. A contract was awarded to Walsh-Turner JV II, headquartered in Chicago, Ill., in August 2021 to construct the new hospital. The designer of record is URS/Smith Group JV.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the new medical center was held on Veterans Day 2021. Construction will take approximately five years.
"We have a very challenging, aggressive schedule to build a sophisticated, world-class facility," said Melody Thompson, deputy USACE Louisville VA division. "We're constructing close to one million square feet, with 51 separate departments and more than 100 inpatient beds.
"All medical projects are challenging with the complexities associated with having the numerous redundancies in utilities, unique clinical spaces like surgical departments and imaging, medical gas systems and multiple low voltage systems. And with the recent pandemic and a changing supply chain, all mega-construction projects have obstacles to overcome. But we have a great contractor and a great team and feel confident we can partner together to overcome any of these issues."
According to Thompson, a significant amount of work remains on the project.
"We've really just begun. The contractor has mobilized. We were able to get onto the site and complete the clearing and grubbing, which is what's now allowing us to move forward with current activities. We've been hauling off excess topsoil. We are continuing with cut and fill operations. Stormwater features are being installed, and we've started placing crushed stone on the north part of the site for the future north parking garage. They also are treating CL/CH soil with lime stabilization materials.
"The contractor also is moving forward with stone placement on haul routes. Several drill rigs are on site, and they've begun drilling on the grillage piers. The contractor also is using a hoe ram to do mechanical rock removal — they've completed three areas within the area of the hospital, and that effort has been more productive than predicted. The blasting subcontractor has scheduled more shots next week, but with multiple areas of work with various means and methods, coordination for safety is key."
Mechanical excavation of rock involves a version of a large jackhammer attached to the arm of an excavator and is used to physically break apart the bedrock. When selecting the appropriate technique to remove rock, crews must consider safety, proximity of adjacent structures, cost and schedule.
Thompson said blasts completed to date have been very successful.
"We have seismic monitoring devices to gauge impacts, and all tests' data has come back within the requirements established by the regulating authorities. There was, rightly so, some initial concern from surrounding neighbors just due to the unknown. So far, feedback has been positive."
Constructing the medical center involves countless activities and a workforce expected to climb to thousands on site at the height of construction.
"In a project this size, almost every trade is likely to play a part in the construction," said Thompson. "We have close to a thousand drilled piers at multiple depths and sizes to support the various structures. Because this is a mission-critical facility for Veterans Affairs, they have requirements for redundant utilities, emergency backup power systems and requirements for on-site water storage, in the event of catastrophic events."
According to Tim Hitchcock, USACE area engineer of the Louisville VA Medical Center project, workers are currently trying to get the overall site excavated and shaped into roughly what it will look like when the undertaking is complete.
"When we started actual construction, we were given a mostly flat template to work with, and as you look at it now, you can see the basement taking shape and some areas being brought up close to where the entrance roads will be. Additionally, we have begun working on pier foundations that will ultimately be the support for the hospital. The site infrastructure has begun on the north side of the site and will continue working south over the next few months.
"Given the amount of land needed to build the full-service medical center and support structures, including the garages, laundry facility, central utility plant and water tower, finding 35 acres of land requiring minimal prep work was a great start," said Hitchcock. "We were fortunate enough to be given a site without any prior construction, which eliminated the need to do any significant demolition work. It's truly a greenfield site. Most of the prep work has been removing the topsoil from the site, which will either be used in other locations or be returned to the site when we're ready for planting."
The central utility plant is a two-story structure with interior mezzanine platforms. The east side of the building provides a covered yard for equipment removal and replacement at both the ground and first level. The facade consists primarily of concrete masonry with green roof areas with a waterproofing roof system. Openings consist of steel overhead doors and aluminum louvers. The plant is steel framed with concrete foundations. When complete, it will provide emergency power and HVAC for the campus.
The north parking garage is composed of six parking levels. It's primarily concrete construction, with an open-air metal panel facade, with an option to construct a similar south parking garage.
As for progress being made, said Hitchcock, "We're at the beginning of a very complex facility. Key features upcoming will be the foundations and building structures."
Hitchcock said dealing with the elements also is a consideration.
"Every area we work in has its own unique effects on construction. The wet and windy weather this winter has required the contractor to schedule activities that are able to proceed in such conditions. We are fortunate to have many of our trade partners native to the Kentucky area, and very familiar with what to expect."
Equipment on the job includes tractors, bulldozers and excavators.
"Additionally, we have recently mobilized three large drill rigs capable of drilling 56-inch holes deep into the rock to support the medical center and supporting buildings. Over time, we will see various lifts and cranes, allowing us to build the vertical portions of the building."
Hitchcock noted that the primary structure of the facility will consist of a concrete and steel skeleton.
"This will be covered by a skin of several cladding materials to include curtain walls and metal wall cladding. As we look inside, we will see several modern materials incorporated into the construction, providing a welcoming atmosphere for the veterans who will use it."
For USACE, overseeing construction of the medical center is an amazing opportunity.
"This is a mega construction project in Louisville, in our district's backyard," said Thompson. "We have the enormous honor to construct a facility that will serve veterans that are our co-workers, friends and family. Many of our team members are veterans. Knowing this facility will be around for 50 years or more places immeasurable importance on the moment.
"What we're doing today will serve thousands upon thousands of veterans for decades, and that should be extremely humbling for all of us. For many, this will be the most important project of our careers. Every day this medical center will not only provide quality healthcare to so many in need, but it also will rightly serve and honor America's veterans." CEG
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