Keep the Mission First: Providing services to the Department of Veteran Affairs

by dynamixmaster

By Doug Smith, PE, CEM, LEED® AP BD+C, GGP

When you’re in the middle of a big project, it’s easy to fixate on the big details—how to integrate new systems into existing ones, how to keep a facility in operation during construction, how to provide system options that not only address immediate needs but also long-term ones, all while keeping the budget and time constraints in mind. However, the Dynamix Engineering team knows that there’s a lot more that goes into projects beyond what is drawn out in the plans. User experience is a key factor that drives our engineers’ design decisions, and it is especially meaningful to us when those users are veterans.

Veterans’ care is changing to meet the needs of multiple generations of service members. This shift is addressing the desire to make their healthcare more accessible by providing clinics, to serve a changing population by growing services for female veterans, and to ensure that mental health services keep veterans safe while they are in the process of rehabilitation.

Dynamix has had both the privilege and responsibility to be involved in over 100 projects with the Department of Veteran Affairs across the country, from Alaska to San Juan and nearly every state in between, serving both as a prime consultant and as a sub consultant to great design teams. Not only do we value the opportunity to provide top-notch facilities for veterans and their families, we also take that experience and apply it to other projects. The VA has done an excellent job with establishing standards that go beyond typical code and regulatory requirements, so we often use them in evaluating design decisions for other projects.

There are four keys to successful partnering with the VA:

1. Know the mission. Whether the project is directly related to patient care spaces or not, all projects at the VA affect patient care. These can be projects which bolster or upgrade critical infrastructure to protect facilities where the veterans are receiving care, improve staff comfort and retention to improve staff-patient interaction, provide great spaces for healing, and accommodate veterans’ families. It is important to remember that all projects are ultimately for the benefit of the veterans.

2. Engage the VA staff to gain insight and obtain project buy-in. It is important that the appropriate user groups, engineering and maintenance staff are engaged throughout a project, from programming through occupancy, in order to ensure those responsible for using, operating and maintaining the completed spaces understand the project goals, requirements, and restrictions. The input from the staff is crucial to gaining relevant and actionable data used in design to ensure the project addresses staff concerns.

3. Position the Contracting Officer (CO) and Contracting Officer’s Representatives (COR) for success. In design/construction, no one likes surprises. It is vital to keep the contract and project management staff abreast of design decisions, challenges, and potential value-added considerations. This allows the CO and COR to not only trust in the design team but also allow them to engage the VA staff as needed to make time-sensitive decisions.

4. Advocate for the Owner during construction. There are many great contractors and subcontractors out there, but the design team must keep a close eye on projects to ensure the VA is receiving what they have paid for and are expecting. The time to generate issues logs is not at the end of construction; an issues log should be maintained throughout a project with a consistent emphasis on bringing closure to each item. If there is a disagreement, it should be resolved as early as possible. This helps ensure items aren’t covered up or forgotten, and it enables the Contractors to successfully complete and close out a project.

So how has Dynamix Engineering implemented this in practice?

Assessments: In addition to being involved in the design of clinical and procedure space, infrastructure and energy savings projects, support and training spaces, Dynamix has been involved with performing assessments to allow for capital planning. It’s important to us to make sure that the assessment process addresses project costs rather than just equipment replacement costs so that the capital budgets established for projects can accomplish the project goals. Dynamix has been involved in assessing several million square feet of facilities.

Facility Condition Assessment (FCA) Updates: Dynamix has performed FCA Updates across the country, from Alaska, to Texas, to Ohio and many states in between. When conducting these assessments, we make sure that we are adding information that better informs the VA planners and allows for better cost estimates of system replacement costs to enable the facilities to more effectively budget future projects. This helps the local facilities better serve the veterans by helping them successfully plan projects for improvements and upgrades.

A/E Designs: Dynamix has been involved in new building design, major renovations and infrastructure improvements for many VA facilities. It is important to listen to the VA and encourage them to allow the proper individuals to participate in the planning and design process. With the extent of renovations in existing facilities, it is important that the design team spend the time in the field looking for existing systems and meeting with maintenance/engineering staff to thoroughly understand their systems and the impact renovations may have. This helps serve the veterans by reducing cost overruns in construction and minimizing impact to building operations during construction.

A couple of interesting VA projects Dynamix has worked on include restoring a historic grotto at the Dayton VA Medical Center, and air handling upgrades at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center. The historic grotto was originally constructed in the late 1800s by Civil War veterans. The grotto today still serves its original purposes of providing a peaceful, healing sanctuary for recovering veterans. In Cincinnati, Dynamix has been involved with multiple projects upgrading several air handling systems serving the main hospital and other buildings including operating rooms, sterile processing, and patient towers. Dynamix worked closely with the VA to reduce cost and associated construction time within the occupied facility by sequencing new air handlers to serve as temporary air handlers for multiple spaces, eliminating the need for renting and installing multiple temporary units.

On a personal level, I thoroughly enjoy working on VA projects and seeing the positive impact it has on the care for our veterans. Our country’s service members and their families have made great sacrifices for all of us. We owe it to them to make sure we give them the best possible care. At Dynamix, we are proud of the fact that we create environments that transform lives, and we are dedicated to providing top-of- the line facilities to suit veterans’ needs.