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NHS Health-Care Complex

In April 2009, the first shovels went into the ground in St. Catharines, Ontario, on the site where the Niagara Health System (NHS) will eventually operate a new, state-of-the-art health facility, the construction of which relies heavily on precast’s design flexibility and durability.

The 375-bed, acute care, NHS Health-Care Complex (HCC) will replace the aging St. Catharines General and Ontario Street facilities, providing an additional 99 beds, and a full range of critical care, surgical, emergency, mental health and ambulatory services.

The new, state-of-the-art health care complex will also accommodate new regional services not previously available in the Niagara region, including comprehensive cancer care at the Walker Family Cancer Centre (WFCC), which will become the hub of a coordinated regional cancer treatment network for the area.

Making a complex that is almost a million square feet make aesthetic sense is not an easy task, according to David Stavros, Senior Design Principle at B&H Architects. “The design challenge we faced was to breakdown its monolithic and monumental scale into well proportioned and clearly identifiable components. Precast gave us the ability to do that.”

Precast products were used extensively throughout the complex; a total of 1,130 pieces, covering some 14,000 sq. m. (155,000 sq. ft.) The average panel size was 13 sq. m. (140 sq. ft.) with some panels weighing over 13,600 kg. (30,000 pounds), and an average of eight panels erected per day. Two types of panels were used: insulated precast sandwich rainscreen panels with a drainage layer, each about 360 mm in thickness (including insulation and airspace), and single-wythe conventional non-insulated architectural precast panels, at 125 mm thick.

“The idea was to model the sandwich panels after a masonry cavity wall system,” says Peter Nemec, P.Eng, Project Manager with RES Precast Inc., “to allow moisture to escape from the panels. As a result, we also had to use vented caulking to make sure that the panels and joints could drain.”

Although insulated, sandwich panels are widely used these days. What made the RES precast panels even more unique were the specialty liners used to create the exterior patterns, like the wood siding, ragged barn beam effect at the east elevation of the complex, intended by the design team to reflect the agrarian nature of the region. “These liners were ordered from Germany,” explains Stavros, “and the use of patterns and colour pigments resulted in a very dynamic and elegant composition. We were able to express the building components in a fresh and unique way.” In fact, five precast finishes were employed, three used form liners, and four of the face mixes utilized pigment.

New techniques were developed for bulkheading panels on the forms to deal with the continually varying panel size and the variability of the formed surface of the form liner.

All of that innovation offset certain challenges that the project presented for RES. “We had pretty strict tolerances on the joint widths on this project,” says Nemec, “because (our clients) were very concerned about movement – they didn’t want the joints to fail under any circumstances, especially a seismic event, given that it’s a post-disaster structure.”

Beyond that, explains Structural Engineer Mike Yelicic of Halsal & Associates, who served as Project Manager, the structural design needed to be altered somewhat to support precast. “When we started off,” he says, “it was agreed that the precast would be spanning between the columns so that it would not load the slab edge, but it turned out that at numerous locations there were access issues – the crane could not get close enough to erect the large pieces of precast which meant that we had to support the smaller pieces of precast along the slab edge.” As a result, Yelicic says the structural team had to scramble a bit at the last moment to re-design the slabs to accommodate precast loading on the slab edge.

When the project is completed and the centre comes online in 2013, the Niagara Region will be home to one of the most up-to-date health-care facilities in the province, with precast playing a prominent role structurally, but also in adding a striking addition to the aesthetics of the area.

Owner: Plenary Health Niagara L. P.
Architect: B & H Architects, David Stavros
Engineer: Halsal and Associated, Michael Jelicic
Contractor: P.C.L., Dean Xuereb

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