Billings Clinic expansion boosting local contractors

2014-08-17T03:00:00Z 2014-08-17T13:49:05Z Billings Clinic expansion boosting local contractorsBy ERIK OLSON eolson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Gene Kolstad has been helping to design health care facilities for more than three decades, and he still gets excited about the details of the blueprints.

A senior architect at Billings-based CTA Architects, Kolstad spends most of his time designing rooms, roofs and hallways for Billings Clinic’s ongoing expansion.

He enjoys the challenge of designing work space for Billings Clinic to make life easier for doctors and nurses, and potentially shave precious seconds off response times during emergencies.

“They are a very important client to us, and they have been for a long time,” Kolstad said.

CTA Architects is just one of many local firms reaping the benefits of Billings Clinic’s recent construction boom. The hospital, Yellowstone County’s largest employer, has spent $42.2 million in the past 18 months on new development, including a new intensive care unit, operating rooms, a cardiac care center and other facilities. That activity has supported hundreds of jobs for

construction workers, designers, materials suppliers and other workers for 180 contractors, mostly in Yellowstone County.

According to a study conducted by the clinic, every $100 spent on hospital construction injects $250 into the local economy through worker spending, vendor sales and other activity. That’s more than $100 million since January 2013, according to the clinic.

Officials at the clinic say they’ve made a conscious effort to keep most of the spending within the area.

“Billings is a medical hub, and we’re continuing to see expanded growth,” hospital spokesman Jim Duncan said.

Health care providers nationwide are beefing up their facilities to grab a greater share of regional markets and to meet changing patient demand.

More than half the respondents (51 percent) to a recent nationwide survey said the Affordable Care Act (often known as Obamacare) is driving changes and expansions of health care facilities.

The survey was conducted in January by the Health Facilities Management and the American Society for Healthcare Engineering.

Hospital officials nationwide reported they are looking to build new neighborhood clinics and surgery centers to meet rising demand for outpatient care.

Like Billings Clinic, 62 percent of survey respondents said they’re ramping up construction of delayed projects.

“Before the recession, hospitals were building brand new facilities, but then that came to a grinding halt. Now people are saying, let’s make sure that our infrastructure serves our needs. They are facing a brutal reality that their existing facilities will need to continue to provide services for many years to come,” said Dale Woodin, director of the American Society for Healthcare Engineering.

In Yellowstone County, Billings Clinic has spread the wealth with its expansion, hiring about a half dozen different general contractors for different projects. The large-scale, multimillion contracts are a prize for area contractors, and they can comprise about 20 percent of a company’s business, contractors say.

“They’re few and far between, and they don’t come around that often,” said Jerry Jones, owner of Billings-based Jones Construction.

Jones built Billings Clinic’s $5 million intensive care unit last year, which employed about 60 workers at peak times, mostly from local subcontractors.

“When you mail the check to a Billings P.O. box, the money stays in town. It’s people who live here and spend their money here,” Jones said.

The work is challenging, especially when contractors are building around an operating medical facility, Jones said. Workers take greater care moving around and doing their jobs, he said.

“It’s so much more technical. You’ve got an environment that (must be) as clean as possible, and you’re bringing in construction, which is totally the opposite,” he said.

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