The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 6, 2013

Joplin’s biggest building project remains on track

New Mercy Hospital will have glass to resist 250 mph winds

By Wally Kennedy

JOPLIN, Mo. — Cold, wet weather this spring hasn’t been enough to knock the biggest building project in Joplin’s history off track.

Nor will weather be able to knock the hospital off line again.

“The March 2015 deadline has not changed,” John Farnen said last week. He is overseeing the construction as Sisters of Mercy Health System’s executive director of strategic projects. “Some intermediate dates have been missed, but we can catch up by working a weekend here or there.”

The new Mercy Hospital Joplin also will be the first of its kind: a hospital that has been hardened to withstand a large tornado.

Compared with the former St. John’s Regional Medical Center, which was destroyed on May 22, 2011, the new 260-bed hospital will be clad with a tougher brick and cast-concrete skin where stucco existed before. It also will be fitted with newly invented windows that far exceed the standard for commercial work.

Those and other safety features will add about 2 percent to 3 percent to the project’s estimated $350 million bottom line, but Farnen said the windows and frames, for example, will be built to withstand winds of 110 mph, 140 mph and 250 mph, depending on where the windows are located. That compares with the 90 mph standard that existed before.

250 mph glass

“There is no standard glass in this facility,” Farnen said of the new hospital. “We have a firm in Iowa that is designing the glass because none of it exists today. The 110 mph glass and the 140 mph glass have passed their testing.

“The 250 mph glass is still going through final testing in Minnesota. May 15 will be the final test for that glass.”

The EF-5 tornado that struck Joplin two years ago had winds of more than 200 mph. Most of the windows in the former hospital were blown out. Inside the building, the wind blew out walls, doors and ceilings, causing extensive damage.

Five patients and one visitor died in the hospital, out of the 189 who were in the building that day. The five patients who died were on ventilators. Flying debris knocked out the hospital’s backup electrical power system. When the power failed, the ventilators stopped.

Right after the storm, a team of engineers went into the medical center to determine what worked structurally and what did not, and designers are incorporating that information into the new hospital.

The only windows to survive were those that had been reinforced with a laminate. The laminated windows were used in the medical center’s behavioral health unit for patient protection.

The windows with a 110 mph rating will be used in public areas that can be evacuated quickly. Patient rooms will have laminated glass capable of withstanding 140 mph winds. The intensive care unit, where patients will be protected in place, will have windows with the 250 mph rating.

Other Mercy hospitals in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma also could get the new windows, Farnen said.

“Hurricane glass has been designed to sustain high winds, but it’s not the same as tornado glass, which can react to flying projectiles,” he said.

When a tornado warning is issued, patients and visitors will be moved into the hospital’s interior. Every floor of the hospital will have a reinforced core area.

The first and second floors of the 875,000-square-foot hospital will have clay brick exteriors. The upper floors will be precast concrete with brick veneer.

Farnen said, “The entire exterior skin will be made of a harder material, which will prevent the kind of exterior damage we saw at the old hospital and help prevent the kind of interior damage that led to chaos and injuries.”

Fortress features

The hospital’s two emergency generators and fuel tanks will be inside a reinforced bunker underground. The tanks will contain enough fuel to last four days.

In addition, Empire District Electric Co. is building a new substation near the hospital so that it can get electrical power from two sources, in case one of the substations is hit by a storm. One Empire substation was destroyed in the tornado, and five others were damaged.

Two of the new hospital’s nine floors will be underground. That will include 14 operating rooms, shielded by concrete walls on three sides and the full length of the hospital on the fourth side.

The lower floors will serve as evacuation areas for the hospital. In the above-ground floors, safe zones with heavy-duty metal doors will be included.

Street work

ALSO IN THE WORKS near the new hospital at 50th Street and Hearnes Boulevard is the redesign of roads surrounding the medical campus. Indiana Avenue on the east side of the hospital has been limited to only local traffic so that it can be flattened, widened and straightened. Crews are working on the second half of that project now.

AT THE END OF THE MONTH when school is no longer in session, work will begin on 50th Street on the south side of the hospital. The street will be widened to three lanes and lowered by 15 feet. Eventually, 50th Street will tie into a roundabout on Hearnes Boulevard that has been under construction since March.