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UC student creates COVID-19 field hospital in convention hall

Engineering student's construction management co-op shifts to pandemic project

Craig Lair headshot on UC campus

Craig Lair. Photo/Provided.

University of Cincinnati undergraduate student Craig Lair, a fourth-year construction management major, is part of a team tasked with converting 250,000 square feet of exhibit hall space at the Miami Beach Convention Center into a 450-bed alternative care hospital in just two weeks. 

Lair had been working for his cooperative education (co-op) employer, construction firm Robins & Morton, when the firm was awarded a contract to work with the Army Corps of Engineers to retrofit the convention space in South Florida into a field hospital to handle an expected surge in patients with COVID-19. 

“The project includes 400 patient rooms and 50 isolation rooms – that’s the easy part – and Robins & Morton had to design and install all the systems to support a hospital, like plumbing, bathrooms, showers, HVAC, medical gasses, and low-voltage system. So, it is really being outfitted like a hospital,” Lair said. 

Given the tight timeline of this unusual project, up to 250 people will be working on site around the clock in 12-hour shifts for 14 consecutive days. 

“We had two weeks from being awarded the contract to being ready to accept the first patient, so the design work and construction is happening simultaneously,” Lair said. 

Lair was moved from his role at another Robins & Morton health care project to the night shift at the convention center. He’s managing and coordinating the medical gas and plumbing subcontractors for the facility and working with the architects and engineers as they continue to design and update the plans and schedule. 

This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime projects.

Craig Lair, UC co-op student

“This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime projects,” Lair said. “I went into healthcare construction because I like the impact it has on communities, and this have even more of that sense.” 

The Richmond, Indiana native, who expects to graduate in 2021, said he came to UC because he liked the urban campus and the reputation of the college. He started out as a civil engineering major, but his first co-op introduced him to the field of construction managementCo-op is integrated into the five-year program at UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science.

“I decided I wanted to go all in on construction management,” Lair said. “I wanted to take advantage of that hybrid between taking all the technical classes and also the business and management classes, which is a combination that makes the UC construction management program unique.”

When he’s not away on co-op, Lair is an ambassador for the college, sharing his UC experience with prospective students and families. He has also participated in regional and national construction competitions through UC, which challenge student teams to design, budget, schedule and plan for a construction project within a compressed timeline, similar to the urgency of the Miami project.

“I think this Miami Beach Convention Center project is really teaching me how to think on the fly and try to solve problems quickly and efficiently, but also correctly, because this is such an important project,” Lair said. “My co-ops have done a good job setting me up to hit the ground running when I get a full-time job.”

Featured image at top: Craig Lair, far right, poses at the Miami Beach Convention Center COVID-19 field hospital construction site. Photo/Provided.