Rockingham Memorial Hospital: Dennis Coffman, Director of Facility Planning and Development

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Until June 22, 2010, Rockingham Memorial Hospital, located in Harrisonburg, Va., had been situated on a small 18-acre campus within the city limits since its founding in 1912. With James Madison University on one side and “Old Town” Harrisonburg on the other side, the hospital was a local fixture, even if it was limited in its ability to expand.

In 2001, the hospital began to explore the possibility of a rotating construction schedule as they sought to regenerate their facilities. According to the plan, each facility would be upgraded over the course of 15 years. Unfortunately, by that point, the buildings that had been originally remodeled would be ready for another round of construction.

When faced with this reality, not to mention the high cost of the situation, RMH officials arrived at one conclusion.

It was time to move. And this time, the campus would need to have leg room.

“We wanted to make sure that what we got was a campus that was big enough to support any of the directions that we think our community would need for us to go in,” said Dennis Coffman, director of facility planning and development and project manager for the new hospital.

After various meetings and consultations, Coffman and senior hospital officials decided to build the new RMH campus on a greenfield site. Several months of in-depth research into various locations followed, as well as examining with county officials the logistics of how this new hospital would fit into the Harrisonburg community.

In August 2006, RMH broke ground on the selected site, a 254-acre piece of land that now houses their full-service, 620,000-sq.-ft., 238-bed hospital and is located just two tenths of a mile outside of the city limits and about two miles from the original site..

Incorporating flexibility and sustainability

Coffman and his steering team, Destination Health, worked intensely on planning and pre-construction to ensure that the new design would be as efficient as possible. This included making sure that procedure rooms were flexible enough to accommodate future technology and that these rooms were located on the outside areas of a department so changes wouldn’t be disruptive.

They also planned for three years of growth in the new facility, making it vital to avoid permanently locating an office or service next to a department that was rapidly growing and expanding. For example, they built unoccupied infrastructure space that will enable the hospital to add two more patient floors and another 144 beds in the near future.

“We knew that we were occupying in June of 2010, but we did our growth projections based upon 2013,” Coffman said. “So as we built the building, we had a plan for what each one of those department-growth strategies would be for each of those three additional years.”

Then, there was LEED certification. Coffman said he started out hoping for LEED silver, was willing to settle for mere certification, but dreamed of LEED gold. His dream would be hard to achieve, however, especially when the board  mandated that LEED points could not result in increased building costs.

In its pursuit of LEED, the hospital first examined the wetlands on which the building would be erected. Because the site was formerly a working farm, RMH opted to partner with JMU on returning the acreage to its natural state. RMH also worked with an Eagle Scout, allowing him to build nesting boxes and observation boxes as part of his community project.

“Now, we’re encouraging people to observe the wildlife of the wetlands, enjoy the natural setting, and make this area something that we’re proud to have on our campus rather than something that we wish would go away and that we could build on top of,” Coffman said.

Coffman also found that installing a white roof on the building cost less than a conventional roof because of the material used. Elsewhere, the hospital worked up a contract with Rockingham County to use methane gas produced by a local landfill as a fuel source for their boilers, thus enabling the county to generate revenue from a previously untapped source.

Prepared for an emergency

Also within the new building, Coffman said they prepared RMH for any future disasters or emergencies that may take place. The boilers, heating, and cooling systems can all operate on diesel fuel, natural gas, and methane gas. If one market plays out at a given time, then RMH can fall back on two others.

Thanks to a deal worked out with the local electric company, the hospital is 100-percent backed up by generators and can go off the grid at peak load times to get a better electrical rate. If there’s an ice storm or some other weather condition that will disrupt electricity, RMH can disconnect with the utility and continue operating without concern for what happens to the local grid system.

Future plans include working with the county to construct a one million-gallon water tank on an unused section of the campus, which will allow the county to stabilize water pressure in the area. If there was ever a water emergency, the county would shut off the valves on the water tank so it would feed only the hospital. One million gallons could last approximately two weeks.

“If there was ever a disaster in our area, the hospital would be a good haven for the local community to depend on,” Coffman said.

Thanks to all of these common-sense measures Coffman and his team took, he achieved his dream of LEED gold certification, the first hospital in the state of Virginia to do so and one of only seven hospitals in the country that are over 100,000 sq. ft.

“You always hear that trying to be a sustainable facility costs more money, and I would say that that’s not necessarily the case,” Coffman said. “If you do good planning upfront and you make the right decisions, either because it’s what you would do for your customers or you would do because there’s a good return on investment, then you can build a sustainable building and really not cost you any more money.”

But most important for a successful project, Coffman said you need to have a good team that rallies together.

“I don’t know that much about clinical,” he said. “I don’t need to know everything about clinical. I need to make sure that we have the right other people at the table who are champions and passionate about their individual pieces, and we all work together, and we all respect where each person’s coming from, so it blends together.”

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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