Workers going 24/7 to reopen former Elgin hospital site for possible COVID-19 patients
The conversion of the old Sherman Hospital site in Elgin into a facility for non-acute COVID-19 patients takes place 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it's slated to be done by April 24, officials said.
The project at the vacant facility at 901 Center St. is overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chicago District and will cost $18 million, to be paid by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, officials said.
The Army Corps said the facility will have 275 beds; state officials said there is a potential for 283 beds.
The 13.7-acre campus in Elgin includes three vacant buildings totaling 254,000 square feet that held physicians' offices until December 2018. The old hospital building was demolished in 2012.
The Army Corps hired general contractor Turner Construction to repurpose the Elgin facility. There are 130 workers during the day and 33 overnight, after a peak of 195 total workers, construction officials said.
Workers on Wednesday were building dry wall cubicles for patient beds, to be closed with curtains for privacy, and installing new ceiling tiles and new sections of linoleum floors. Everyone wore face coverings and gloves and was mindful of social distancing.
Chris McFadden, vice president for Turner Construction headquartered in New York City, said the company is the largest health care builder in the United States and also is working to build a pandemic-related alternate care facility in Long Island, New York.
"Across the company right now, we are delivering about 4,000 beds relative to the pandemic on an accelerated basis in a matter of weeks," McFadden sad.
Precautions at construction sites also include limiting work to two or three floors at a time, limiting elevator use by encouraging use of stairwells, making stairwells "one-way only" to limit contact among people, and asking workers to take lunch breaks where they are working, McFadden said.
The local community in Elgin has been very supportive of the project, said Kate VanZeyl, vice president and general manager for Turner Construction in Chicago.
"Neighbors in the community baked cookies for the people working on the job and wrote nice letters saying, while they hoped the facility would never be used, they were thankful for the workers who were working diligently to create the facility," she said.
Once the work is done, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency will take over and work with the Illinois Department of Public Health to staff the facility. The process of securing personnel and equipment "is ongoing," IEMA spokeswoman Rebecca Clark said.
The state reported Wednesday 24,593 cases of COVID-19, including 948 deaths. However, the rate of increase had been slowing, state officials said. Illinois has about 30,000 hospital beds, compared to about 25,000 in 2019. About 40% of ICU beds and 25% of ventilators were being used for COVID-19 patients this week.
So do state officials expect the Elgin facility will end up housing any patients?
"This is a novel virus, and we are still learning what this virus is capable of," Clark said Monday. "Regardless of what the models say, the responsible action of the state of Illinois is to be prepared to respond to the need of our local jurisdictions."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chicago District also has been assigned to work on rehabilitation of MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island and Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park. Both are expected to be done by April 24, district public affairs chief Patrick Bray said.
Those facilities have much larger capacity -- about 550 beds projected at MetroSouth and 430 beds projected at Westlake -- and might end up taking "various levels" of patients, Bray said.
• Daily Herald staff photographer John Starks contributed to this report.
Project to create COVID-19 beds in ElginWhere: Old Sherman Hospital campus at 901 Center St. in Elgin
What: At least 275 beds for non-acute COVID-19 patients
When: Slated to be done by April 24
Who: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chicago District and Turner Construction
Cost: $18 million to be paid by the Federal Emergency Management Agency