Inspecting every single element of a nearly 400,000 square-foot new hospital

Are all systems go? That’s the question that needs to be answered during the commissioning of the new HSC Winnipeg Women’s Hospital.

“Throughout the construction process, we examine the quality of construction and installation, and test each building system,” explains Bill Algeo, Building Technologist and HSC’s Commissioning Authority for the Women’s Hospital Redevelopment Project (WHRP). “The integrated commissioning process enables us to confirm that equipment and systems are functioning as intended, and identify any challenges for the contractor to resolve prior to the building handover.”

Bill leads a team of skilled tradespeople and supervisors examining their own particular area’s specialized systems. At any given time there are 15 to 20 people inspecting, documenting and testing different areas and systems in the building.

Consultants only spot check the work quality and progress, so the HSC commissioning team inspects every single element of the nearly 400,000 square-foot building and checks them against the design. For example: are the installed toilets the water-saving type specified, and are they functioning correctly? Is the drywall painted flawlessly? Are the windows sealed correctly?

When deficiencies are found, the commissioning team documents them for various consultants to the contractor for resolution. Deficiencies can run the gamut from a nick in the wall, to incorrect installation or operation of a piece of equipment or improper function of an entire system.

One of the patient washrooms at the new hospital.

For example, the team may find that an installed product is different from the original specification. Simple substitutions are often inevitable given the time between design and build, as products may have new versions or may have been discontinued. The typical process for a substitution is for the builder to advise the consultant in advance. The change would be evaluated to determine whether it is an equal product. This process can impact timelines and potentially increase costs. Actual errors can be both time-consuming and costly, especially if rework is necessary. The HSC team continues follow-up inspections to confirm that all deficiencies are corrected.

Physical examination of the construction is only one part of the commissioning process. Every electrical and mechanical system must also be inspected and tested to make sure water flows, elevators run, lights go on, and heating and cooling systems operate as appropriate.

Each system is tested independently, from end to end. Then they are tested to see if they perform correctly as they integrate with the other building systems.

“We’ll make sure that when a fire alarm is pulled the alarms ring, lights flash, the right doors unlock, and the elevators shut down,” says Bill. “This process is incredibly detailed and important because every building design is different, and the interrelated systems must work in concert, as designed.”

“Every test is also a learning experience,” he continues. “We have learned from every previous project we’ve commissioned and have developed very specific equipment tests.”

As each system is examined and tweaked to ensure proper functioning, the team moves on to testing interdependent systems.

“It’s not enough to know that each system works on its own,” says Craig Doerksen, Divisional Director, Facility Management, and a member of the WHRP Steering Committee Executive. “We have to make sure they work together too.” To illustrate, he uses the example of showers.


“Each shower must be tested individually. Is the tap installed correctly? Does the water come on when you turn on the tap?” Craig says. “Do both hot and cold water flow as they should? Does hot water reach the right temperature? How long will hot water last?”

“Now, does the exhaust fan work properly? Is the mirror fogging up? Are the tiles getting slippery or is the floor surface still skid-proof?”

The relationships grow in magnitude and scale. “So we know what happens one room at a time. But what if everyone on the floor turns on the shower at the same time? What if 10 of those people shower for 30-minutes each? Is there enough hot water? Is the steam to hot water converter big enough? Is there enough water pressure from the pumps?”

That’s just the showers. Every electrical outlet in the building must be tested. Every light switch. Every data jack. And on it goes. Painstaking attention is paid to every detail because at the end of the day, HSC Facility Management is responsible for ensuring the care and safety of everyone and everything inside the building.

The process continues until the contractor and HSC’s commissioning team are confident that all systems are working properly. Then they are ready to do a dry-run to test the Life Safety Systems.

“We throw the switches for complete loss of power,” says Craig. “We need to know with absolute certainty that the building and ultimately the people inside it will be safe under extraordinary circumstances. We look at the redundancies that are built in to ensure backup systems come on and function as they are supposed to.”

From there, the team pulls together all the players for the consultants’ Life Safety Test rehearsal. Each consultant responsible for the project, be they mechanical, electrical, structural, and/or architectural, must witness the functionality and provide letters of certification to confirm their respective designs are reflected in the actual building and work for their intended purpose.

Rehearsals continue until the team is satisfied that it will successfully pass the Life Safety Systems test with City of Winnipeg inspectors. Consultants prepare their verification letters to accompany the application for an interim occupancy permit, and the City of Winnipeg inspectors set the time and date for the test.

Once the building successfully passes the test and the building design team warrants that the project is substantially complete, the City grants the occupancy permit. At this point, HSC takes on full responsibility for the building and moves into the next phase of readiness preparation for opening.

HSC will need several months following substantial completion to install, test and prepare staff, equipment, work processes, and clinical systems. Simulations of the move itself will also be run as opening day nears. Once HSC is confident that care can be provided safely, the new HSC Winnipeg Women’s Hospital, at all systems go, will welcome its first patients.

This article was submitted by HSC Winnipeg.