Anigre panels are a focal point of the lobby of the North Carolina Cancer Hospital, part of the
UNC Linebeger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The architectural millwork in the new $178-million North Carolina Cancer Hospital in Chapel Hill, NC, represents not only meticulous craftsmanship, but a triumph over distance.

The gleaming anigre-paneled lobby, the patient rooms with headwalls of precisely-positioned equipment, the handsome teleconferencing room for the state’s doctors — they are the creation of architects, general contractor, woodworkers and installers from across North America.

Architectural millwork firm Beaubois of St-Georges, QC, created the $2.9 million millwork package under the direction of architectural firm Zimmer Gunsul Frasca of Seattle, WA. For on-site work, Beaubois turned to its installation partner of many years, Williamson Builders Inc. (WBI) of Houston, TX. The general contractor was the Durham, NC, office of Stockholm-based Skanska.

Within the hospital are 101 examination, treatment,
consultation and procedure rooms, including this
infusion pod setup.

Multi-Year Project

Begun in 2005, the hospital came in ahead of schedule and under budget, and by fall of 2009, patients from across the state were taking advantage of its state-of-the-art imaging, radiation oncology, pediatric treatment, infusion and in-patient services. As North Carolina’s only publicly-owned hospital devoted to cancer care, the 315,000-square-foot building is the clinical home of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and is associated with the University of North Carolina and its medical school.

“I am proud that our state had the foresight to build a structure as superb as our faculty and staff,” says the medical school dean, Dr. William L. Roper. Dr. Charles Sanders of the UNC Health Care System, calls it a “remarkable facility.”

What facilitated the entire project was the fact that Beaubois not only had the size and range of experience to handle the scope of the North Carolina Cancer Hospital millwork contract, but was able to work on other jobs simultaneously, says Project Manager Steve Lapointe. The company, established in 1977, has about $50 million in annual sales.

“We may have 30 projects at the same time that we have to deal with,” Lapointe says. The large number of employees — 250 working different shifts in the 180,000-square-foot plant, plus 100 more employees in the office — as well as a broad array of equipment made it possible, he says.

That equipment includes: three Biesse CNC machining centers, a five-axis SCM CNC machining center, three Giben panel saws, one SCM Gabbiani CNC panel saw, eight Altendorf (Stiles Shop Solutions) bench saws, three SCM edgebanders, a 53-inch top and bottom SCM sander, another 53-inch SCM face sander, a Biesse casework assembly machine, an SCM Superset moulder and a Cantek Leadermac moulder, two straight-line Silver ripsaws, two Casati (Akhurst) guillotines, as well as a Kuper (Stiles Machinery) splicer and an Italpresse veneer press.

Even with that high level of employees and equipment, Lapointe adds, “Planning is very important, in order to respect the schedules of all the projects.” The same group of planners will stay with the project, from beginning to end.

The N.C. Cancer Hospital project was a collaborative
effort between Beaubois, WBI and Skanska. Here,
WBI employees are shown installing some of the
architectural millwork.      Photo by Ted Byrnes

Relationships Are Key
Another key factor in the project’s success was the close relationship Beaubois has developed during the last decade with installer WBI, Lapointe says.

The two companies have collaborated on a host of high-profile projects including All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, FL; the Fairfax County Courthouse in Fairfax, VA; and the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.

WBI is led by President and CEO Kurt Snell, who embarked on a woodworking career when he was 14 years old. “I sanded for three years,” he jokes. He had worked in a shop for 12 years when “they let me out two days to go install.”

The freedom and challenge of making everything fit exerted an irresistible pull, and he has been in installation ever since, founding WBI in 1991, he says.

Both Snell and Lapointe agree, bringing everything together on a project like the hospital can be a challenge. “There is a lot of coordination and meeting.....but everything went very well with Skanska, WBI and the architect,” Lapointe says.

Ben Huffman, Skanska senior project manager who coordinated the work of Beaubois, WBI and the slate, drywall and other subcontractors, says he remembers thinking at the beginning of the project, “It’s going to be difficult getting this stuff to come together.”

To accomplish it, Huffman says he established controls — like “X marks the spot” — that all the contractors worked from. WBI, for example, took measurements in the field before Beaubois started cutting the panels.

In fact, Lapointe says, Snell functioned as Beaubois’ on-site superintendent, an unusual circumstance considering the tension that can sometimes exist between woodworking firms and installers. “It’s very unusual,” Snell says. ”Usually they don’t let the fox guard the henhouse.”

But, he adds quickly, “We have a real trusting relationship. We (Beaubois and WBI) both understand each other’s construction style.”

A Focus on Style
The focal point of the hospital lobby is a two-story curving wall of slate and anigre panels. It adjoins a glass-fronted mezzanine rising above a curving wall of other anigre panels. Reveals, some stainless steel and some wood, run horizontally and vertically between the panels.

“You’re standing in the lobby and that (reveal) line carries throughout,” says Huffman. Not only that, he adds, “In some of the panels we had stainless steel accents within the millwork panels.”

In the 50 patient rooms, precise cuts had to be made in the “headwall” behind the patient’s bed to allow for electrical outlets, oxygen delivery and other treatment measures. Skanska built a mockup and invited the nurses to critique it. Huffman says he looked for them to tell him, “Instead of the outlet there, we want it here.”

Then Skanska made templates of the headwalls to send to Beaubois in Canada. According to Huffman, the company actually made two different templates because headwalls in half the rooms backed up to the headwalls of the other half, requiring a slightly different placement of equipment.

When the headwalls came back, delivered by the Canadian transportation company that does Beaubois’ work, “all those outlets were exactly where those cutouts were,” Huffman says. It made it possible for the parts “to come off the truck and go right into place, otherwise WBI would never have got them installed in time.”

Because the hospital is both a research and treatment center, the millwork package included such things as conferencing facilities for doctors, infusion pods for intravenous delivery of medication, a patient and family resource room with tables and shelves for educational materials, even a playroom.

And all throughout, says Huffman, “There are some consistent boxes, like a base cabinet. But all the paneling, the headwalls, are custom.”

Winning the Time Challenge
The principal players all agree that timing was the biggest challenge. Beaubois, for example, had to deal with different suppliers, coordinate deliveries, and time the fabrication so that the millwork would be on-site when needed. Millwork materials included not only the anigre, but cherry for bookcases and paneling, maple for the headwalls, and plastic laminate and solid surface for cabinets.

“It’s not easy,” Lapointe says. “For example, for the same nurse’s desk, we had to purchase plastic laminate, Corian, stainless steel, 3-form decorative panels, wood veneer, etc.”

On the installation, Snell used a basic team of WBI employees, augmented by carpenters from the Chapel Hill area. Because of the quality control employed before and during the manufacturing process, on-site adjustments were minimal and easily handled by Snell’s team in Chapel Hill.

When asked what gave him the greatest satisfaction on the Cancer Hospital job, Lapointe immediately singles out the lobby. “I think it’s very impressive, with the entire wall of anigre paneling,” he says. “It’s very beautiful.”

For Snell, the best moment came after the project was completed. He says he tuned in to a TV newscast, “talking about how they needed the place and how we had [contributed to helping] so many people.”

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