Property & Buildings

Sanford Medical Center Prepared for Harsh Winters

Fargo, North Dakota is known for its harsh, unforgiving winter storms, and the new Sanford Medical Center is now prepared to handle the worst of the worst.



The Sanford Medical Center will soon serve the health care needs of eastern North Dakota, eastern South Dakota, and western Minnesota.

The 11-story, one-million-square-foot medical facility will soon serve the health care needs of eastern North Dakota, eastern South Dakota, and western Minnesota. In February, the completed building was turned over to the owner, Sanford Health, which plans to finish the interior of the building and serve its first patients by July.

“This is the largest medical construction project to be completed in the state of North Dakota,” said Doug Calhoun, project manager. “It’s also one of the largest private industry construction projects in the history of the Dakotas and one of the top health care projects in the U.S.”

WSP USA provided mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) engineering for the $500 million medical facility.

“We designed the central energy plant such that the entire hospital can be taken off the utility grid, if necessary,” Calhoun said. “The facility will be able to ride out potential utility losses during extended winter storms but also help the utility company reduce load during times of high usage.”

The generator power electrical distribution system was designed such that the entire campus can be fed from three onsite 15 kilovolt, 2500 kilowatt, tier 4 diesel generators.


Rick Rome


Sam Thompson


Doug Calhoun

“The controls of the system allow the facility managers to be proactive and transfer the campus load to generator power prior to actual utility loss during a storm scenario,” said Sam Thompson, construction administrator for WSP. “This transfer occurs in a closed transition mode, paralleling with the utility with no interruption of power to the building. So the occupants and equipment never sense a transfer has taken place. During an actual utility loss the medical center’s essential loads automatically transfer within 10 seconds.”

There were a few challenges during construction, such as frequent 50-mile-per-hour winds, below-zero temperatures in the winter, and 100-degree temperatures in the summer.

Another challenge was the aggressive design schedule, but the team was able to stay on target, successfully completing the design in just 11 months. That set the stage for construction, which started in December 2012 and was completed ahead of schedule and under budget.

One of the key components to improving the schedule was the prefabrication of all of the patient toilet rooms off-site and having them transported to the site and lifted into place. “With the tight labor pool in North Dakota, this became a fantastic way to level out the workers required onsite at any one time,” said Rick Rome, principal-in-charge for the project.

Fantastic Response

The new medical center include 380 private patient rooms, a family birth center, neonatal intensive care unit, pediatrics and pediatric intensive care unit, emergency services and trauma with 50 emergency department bays, intensive care unit, 36 operating rooms, medical surgical services, heart surgery and interventional cardiology unit, and neurosurgery.

“The public response to the facility has been fantastic,” Calhoun said. “The people in the Fargo area have been very supportive of the new facility, the advances in health care that will be possible, and the increased level of care that the patients will have access to.”



WSP designed the Sanford Medical Center central energy plant to be able to ride out potential utility losses during winter storms.

The building was designed by HKS, with JLG Architects serving as the associate architect. Mortenson Construction/Nor-Son, Inc. was the construction manager and Lightowler Johnson Associates, civil engineer.

“Our firm collaborated with the entire design team throughout the design and construction phases,” Calhoun said. “Subcontractors were brought on early in the process and we worked with them to provide the best value in MEP systems while still achieving the system performance desired by the owner.”

The mechanical systems design for the project was done hand-in-hand with the facility engineering staff to ensure that maintenance in the cold weather climate was always kept in mind, while still maintaining the outstanding efficiency goals agreed to by the team at the onset of the design.

“The systems include a heat-recovery heat pump chiller system, which allows heat to be rejected from the chilled water system into the heating water system,” Rome said. “This is the first time this has been utilized in a major hospital in North Dakota."

WSP’s services on the medical center are now complete.

“We had an excellent MEP sub-contractor team, Parsons/Moorhead Electrical and Metro Mechanical, and worked closely with them to solve problems or difficulties during construction,” Thompson added. “As with any project there were some challenges, but overall it was a great success.”

Calhoun credited the success of the firm’s role on the project to his team, which included Thompson; Jay Goode, lead mechanical engineer; Jon Carter, lead electrical engineer; Mark Tyndall, lead plumbing designer; Laura Geiger, electrical engineer; Allisen Jones, mechanical designer; Jon Kaminski, plumbing designer, and Fabian Ewins, building information modeling coordinator.

“It’s great to see a project have such a positive impact on the community,” Calhoun said. "The Sanford Health staff has been invested in the entire process and is very appreciative of the efforts of the whole team. It’s nice to leave the community with something they’re proud of that will provide services to them for years to come.”


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