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Dome - Behind the Scenes

June 2010

Behind the Scenes

By: Mary Ellen Miller
Date: June 7, 2010

The many unsung heroes working on Hopkins' new clinical buildings step forth.


Project executives Donna Brinkmeyer, Chris Smith and Richard Brill, who make sure that the contracting work goes smoothly, and Facilities Senior Director Howard Reel (far right) watch a worker cut interior steel wall supports.
Project executives Donna Brinkmeyer, Chris Smith and Richard Brill, who make sure that the contracting work goes smoothly, and Facilities Senior Director Howard Reel (far right) watch a worker cut interior steel wall supports.

Donna Brinkmeyer is a key person when it comes to getting the $1.1 billion new clinical buildings constructed and open to patients. Her job doesn’t require a tool belt or walking over steel beams hundreds of feet in the air. But if you want to make sure that a fitting for a sink is the most cost effective, Brinkmeyer is the first line of defense.

Donna Brinkmeyer, Richard Brill, Chris Smith and Danielle Karavedas form a cadre of project executives, working in Hopkins Hospital’s Facilities Design and Construction department on one of the country’s largest medical building projects.

Coming from construction management backgrounds, project executives oversee the contractors and the architect, and make sure the owner’s instructions are being carried out. Specifically, they make sure that architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing aspects are coordinated. They’re also responsible for furniture and equipment procurement, and, ultimately, the activation of the new clinical buildings.  

“If we weren’t doing this coordination and quality control now, it could possibly delay the job,” says Brinkmeyer, who’s in charge of mechanical systems. “If we take care of all those issues now on paper, we don’t have to take care of them in real life in the field.”

For a sense of the scale of the project, the mechanical subcontractor, Poole and Kent, is the biggest subcontract that Clark Construction has ever written in its history. “It’s huge,” says Brinkmeyer. “That’s why I have four project managers helping me to handle it.”

Although Facilities Design and Construction has a division that deals with bread-and-butter operations such as renovations and repairs in the older buildings, a special projects office was created some seven years ago to manage the $1.1 billion job at Orleans and Wolfe streets.

The office started with a small nucleus of employees housed in three trailers adjacent to the old Broadway garage. Today, there is a staff of 22 and a handful of consultants also help out. “When we first embarked on this, we thought we’d get by with about 12,” says Howard Reel, senior director of the office.

Construction management for the project is provided by Clark/Banks, A Joint Venture. Clark Construction is a national firm that does billions of dollars of work each year. Banks Contracting is a local, certified minority business. There are 25 subcontractors under them. “That’s where the work actually starts to take place,” says Reel. Currently, there are 900 workers on the job.

“We’ve had many changes to the project—some were predictable, some were not,” continues Reel, who came to Hopkins from a for-profit environment 13 years ago. “And one of the main things this group is responsible for is the management of those changes, both from an implementation standpoint and a cost-control standpoint.”

Danielle Karavedas, who came to work for Reel as a staff assistant 10 years ago and is now a project executive, handles a different side of the operation. She procures furniture and equipment—“from ventilators to IV poles to booms and lights for the ORs,” says Karavedas. The hospital will spend $12 million to $15 million on furnishings. “All public spaces are going to have all new furniture, and there’s a lot of public space in the building.”

A particularly complex part of her job is managing the activation and transition plan for the new buildings. Working primarily with nursing staff, she went through an interview process with each unit to understand how they function today and translate that into how they will move into the new space. “Right now, we’re going through a validation effort with all the units to say, Did we get it right? Did we hear you correctly?”

The plan, she says, won’t be finalized until the move starts happening. “But at least from the feedback we’ve heard so far, we seem to not have issues with the way the plan is laid out.”

Karavedas says that working in health care construction puts everything into a different perspective. “When you think of the end result, how the building is going to affect so many people, it is different than if you were just building an office building. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Reel echoes her sentiments. “There are so many ways that my staff shows how invested they are in the project. There is nothing more satisfying to me, and to them, I’m sure, than to be around a project and to see it take shape. There’s a phrase that contractors use—‘I built that.’ Well, nobody built it by themselves, but we all see ourselves to being integral to that accomplishment. It’s a great business.”

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