Mass General Hospital expansion project Boston

Cannistraro in it for the long haul at MGH

Boston is known as a hub for medical care, and Mass General Hospital is among the city’s crown jewels. Serving the community and beyond for more than 200 years, the Harvard Medical School teaching hospital is acknowledged as one of the world’s finest healthcare facilities. Over the past three decades, MGH has been thoughtfully expanding and modernizing its campus, and has chosen Cannistraro as the plumbing subcontractor of record since construction of the Blake tower in 1990.

The GBPCA contractor is back on board for the hospital’s latest expansion, a project that is so major, it started last year and will keep Cannistraro and the Local 12 plumbers on its team busy through 2030. Valued at $2 billion and encompassing more than 1.5 million square feet, the state-of-the-art clinical care complex will include two towers perched above an underground garage along Cambridge Street.

In responding to the hospital’s RFP, the company presented a multi-year plan showcasing its leadership depth to manage the manifold and far-reaching project, according to its president, John Cannistraro Jr.

“We’ve never had a project that’s spanned so many years before,” he says. “But based on our long history with MGH and our demonstrated succession plan for future leaders, working with them for the long term is a perfect fit.”

The project will be built in phases, with the first phase focused on the creation of the six-level, below-grade garage and the erection of a 12-story inpatient tower. Those are scheduled to open in 2027. During the second phase, the existing above-ground Parkman Garage will be demolished, and the second tower, at 13 stories, will be built. That building is slated to open in 2030. The towers will be the new homes of the hospital’s cancer and heart centers. They will also include 482 single-bed inpatient rooms, 23 operating rooms, 100 infusion bays, and 120 exam rooms.

“This building will be the most important Mass General constructs in our history–perhaps only second to our original Bulfinch building dating back to 1811,” says Dr. David Brown, MGH’s president. “It will create the environment our staff need, and our patients deserve.”

A joint project that both Turner Construction Company and Walsh Brothers are managing, the Cannistraro team has been working on coordination with the two general contractors for about a year.

“We’re getting risers up through shafts. We’re getting in there with other trades and using the 3D Revit program [BIM software] to make sure that pipes, ducts, and electrical all fit together,” says Jim Fitzgerald, Cannistraro’s plumbing pre-construction manager for the MGH project. The Local 12 member explains that getting subcontractors in early and having them participate in the design work helps make sure that everything will be in harmony before fit outs start. “You can eliminate the headaches, hassles, and hiccups down the road.”

It’s a business model that is gaining acceptance, largely because it embraces efficiency, Fitzgerald notes. By drawing everything out in advance, Cannistraro can take hours from the field and move them into its prefabrication facility. “The building process can go much more smoothly,” he adds.

For example, the plumbing contractor is assembling medical gas headwall units at its fabrication shop in the Seaport District. Local 12 mechanics are installing the medical gas piping alongside electricians that are providing the wiring and drywall carpenters that are building out the units. Fitzgerald says that bringing multiple trades together to work with each other during preconstruction is a relatively new concept. He adds that they are fortunate to have large openings in the buildings to accommodate the bulky units.

They’ve spent a good part of their careers at MGH

Fitzgerald has been working for Cannistraro for more than 30 years, much of it spent working on MGH projects. In the early 2000s, he was the general foreman for the hospital’s Yawkey Center, a large two-tower facility. Ten years later, he oversaw the subcontractor’s team working on MGH’s Lunder building. Following that, Fitzgerald was the lead coordinator for fabrication on Spaulding Rehabilitation’s new campus in Charlestown, which is part of the MassGeneral Brigham network.

“It means a lot to me,” he says. “I’ve been a patient at Mass General, my family has been there, I have relatives who work there. The fact that I’ve helped build it kind of hits home.”

Kenneth Reagan, VP for business development and special projects, has also worked for Cannistraro for more than 30 years and has spent even more time at MGH. Since 1989, he has mostly focused on special projects, such as room and floor renovations, with a crew of six to ten Local 12 plumbers. For example, he is now overseeing an upgrade to the entire hospital’s bulk oxygen that includes a separate tank plant and separate piping system. Spanning about four years, the huge undertaking will essentially provide a backup oxygen distribution system for the medical facility. It’s indicative, Reagan notes, of the hospital’s forward thinking and commitment to innovation.

“When I look at MGH, it’s so far ahead,” he says. “It is the first on to jump on new technology. It’s always at the forefront with the most advanced facilities.”

It is also a stickler for details. Early in his career, John Cannistraro remembers working as a project manager for the Blake Tower. While preparing the submittals for the job, he learned that the hospital required information down to the last nut and washer.

“They looked at every page and stamped them,” John recalls about the 200-page-long document. “I was proud of that, because it was an attention to detail that has always stuck with me. It was important to MGH; it was important to me.” It helped forge a long-term relationship with the hospital that remains strong. “It brings me tremendous joy to have built this reputation at MGH.”

Creating a 96-hour island

Over the course of the contractor’s long partnership with the world-class hospital, the plumbing systems, and the work that Local 12 plumbers perform, have remained more or less the same. But, the processes have changed. For one, fabrication, driven by building information modeling, has become much more prevalent. Always on the cutting edge, the hospital itself has become more complex.

For instance, the current MGH project includes provisions for the new buildings to enter 96-hour island mode. Should there be catastrophic weather or some other disaster that results in the loss of power, water, utilities, or sewer, the buildings would remain self-sufficient for four days. The patient rooms, operating suites, and all of the other hospital’s functions could continue unimpeded, thereby providing a haven for an especially vulnerable population.

“We’ve never seen anything like this to this degree,” Fitzgerald says, noting that MGH is considering climate change, sea level rise and storm surge, terrorism threats, high winds, and other modern-day factors in its wide-ranging plans. “These buildings are being designed to 2070 standards,” he adds.

There will be ten 7,500-gallon domestic water tanks in the lower level of the new garage. Additionally, Cannistraro will be installing four 10,000-gallon emergency sanitary tanks in the underground of the garage along with piping and valves to divert water to them, if necessary.

“I look at this project as being groundbreaking for the modernization of hospitals,” Reagan notes.

Given the long time frame, Reagan and Fitzgerald will most likely be retired before the MGH project finishes. However, they are training and teaching the men and women who will succeed them. When it wraps in 2030, they will be able to look at the new buildings, and the many other projects on which they worked at the hospital, with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Along with the many Local 12 plumbers who have worked on Cannistraro crews at MGH, they will know that they helped make possible the renowned, exemplary care the hospital provides.