Renovating Dartmouth: The opportunities and challenges in renovating a working health care facility

Dartmouth General Artist Rendering

Renovating a hospital is not a simple task; there are many moving pieces that must be carefully considered in addition to the task of planning and designing a space that will function well now and 20 years from now. 

Gary Pierce, project manager, and Terry Smith-Lamothe, senior architect and design team leader, both assigned to the Dartmouth General Hospital renovation and expansion by Nova Scotia Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, compare the complicated, many moving pieces behind the project to solving a Rubik’s cube. 

“Renovations must be planned to minimize disruption in the hospital and we try to be as logical and commonsensical as possible as to what we do first, second and third. We map that out,” said Smith-Lamothe. 

“And with renovations, of course, you have the unknowns that you run into, so we expect that it won’t go exactly as planned, but as close as we can make it.” 

In May work began on the long-talked about Dartmouth General addition and it is no small undertaking. It has been meticulously planned and designed over a period of six years and will house eight new (four net-new, four relocated) modern operating rooms, medical device reprocessing and more. 

Both Pierce and Smith-Lamothe consider this project one of the most intricate of their careers. 

“The largest challenge is the complexity in the moves that must happen – the Rubik’s cube maneuvers,” said Pierce. “The reason we’re doing the addition first is that it will allow for some swing space – we can free up areas in the existing hospital by moving them to the new addition and then go back and renovate the existing areas. 

Despite the complexity of this infrastructure project, both Pierce and Smith-Lamothe acknowledge that the pressure they face pales in comparison to the responsibility of continuing to provide excellent patient care in a construction zone. 

“[Hospital employees] will be challenged a lot,” said Pierce. “We will be in their space during the renovation and it takes a great deal of coordination to maintain operations as we work around them in some very critical areas. They have been very good - reacting positively with a spirit of problem solving.” 

Smith-Lamothe adds, “The physicians and the staff at the Dartmouth General Hospital are excellent and [Chief of Medical Staff] Dr. Todd Howlett and [Health Services Director] Heather Francis have infused the project with passion. 

“It’s the people, the people who will benefit and the people we work with, that make it all worthwhile,” said Smith-Lamothe.