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The Army Corps of Engineers is moving ahead with the construction of an overflow center for COVID-19 patients at State Fair Park in West Allis and has hired Gilbane and a number of other contractors for the project.
But it’s a center Milwaukee officials hope they never have to use.
The Corps earlier this week met with a team of contractors to begin developing the so-called Alternative Care Facility. The center would convert an expo center in State Fair park into a place to house coronavirus patients who aren’t exhibiting acute symptoms in order to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.
Milwaukee area officials, in a news conference Thursday, said such a project is a necessary precaution as coronavirus continues to spread.
“We all hope to God that we don’t have to use this facility,” said Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. “However, in elected office, if there is a 1% chance that a decision we make will result in a death we cannot take that chance.”
On Tuesday, the Army Corps of Engineers was formally assigned the construction of the center. Its first meeting on the project came the following day, said Col. Aaron Reisinger, of the Corps’ Chicago office.
Although design and planning work is already underway, Reisinger said vertical construction could begin within the next two to four days.
The Corps has hired Gilbane to build the center along with several other local contractors, including HGA Architects and Engineers, of Milwaukee; Johnson Controls; Staff Electric, of Menomonee Falls; J.F. Ahern, of Fond du Lac; and Hetzel Sanfilippo, of Pewaukee.
Gilbane has a longstanding Milwaukee office. The company’s California-based federal contracting arm was the lone bidder on the State Fair park job and was awarded a $10 million contract on Tuesday to convert the park into an alternative care center, according to a federal bid award notice posted the following day. The project has an estimated completion date of April 24.
Reisinger said the Corps hasn’t a final contract with Gilbane yet and couldn’t provide a cost estimate for the project on Thursday.
“We’re in the confidence building business right now,” Reisinger said. “It’s confidence that we have the capacity to deal with unforeseen circumstances.”
Preparing State Fair Park for coronavirus patients means bringing in equipment of the type commonly found in hospitals, Reisinger said. Crews are working to install HVAC systems, plumbing systems, improve internet service for health-care providers and map out spaces for the intake and outflow of patients.
The center itself will have eight-foot high, “pods” with three walls and a curtain that will serve as a door for coronavirus patients. Reisinger pointed to the conversion of Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center as an example of what the State Fair Park project might look like when finished.
The Alternative Care Facility would treat COVID-19 patients without acute symptoms to avoid overwhelming hospitals as the number of cases continues to increase. The center, however, won’t be equipped to accommodate patients with more pronounced symptoms of COVID-19.
Local officials chose the state fair park grounds after touring a number of other sites in the Milwaukee area. The state fair park grounds have a “natural perimeter,” various large venues and other accommodations that make it a good candidate for the facility, officials said last week.
“We are extremely appreciative of FEMA and the Army Corp of Engineers for their responsiveness as we continue to see an increase in the number of individuals testing positive for COVID-19 in Wisconsin,” Evers said in a statement. “This alternative care facility will be a critical addition to the southeastern region of our state and will be essential to continuing to ensure our healthcare systems are not overwhelmed.”Follow @natebeck9