Building Momentum for Prefabrication in California

This article is included in the Great Things: Issue 7 edition of the DPR Newsletter.

SurePods’ approval by HCAI for healthcare facilities in the Golden State marks a milestone for expanding prefabrication capabilities that support all projects. SurePods is a strategic partner of DPR and part of its' family of companies.

A woman works on assembling a prefabricated bathroom unit.
Building in a controlled factory setting safeguards against common external construction risk factors such as inclement weather. Courtesy of Mindy Hetman

As most developers and contractors in California know, building in the Golden State can present a unique set of challenges. The state’s building industry is characterized by higher labor costs, dense urban cities, high seismic factors, and like most of the country, it faces a shortage of skilled craft labor.

The stakes get higher when you factor in requirements set by the California Department of Health Care Access and Information (HCAI), formerly known as the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD), which apply to all healthcare projects in the state. HCAI monitors the construction, renovation and seismic safety of hospitals and skilled nursing facilities, and sets the precedent for quality healthcare building projects at the highest level.

DPR's strategic partner SurePods marked a huge milestone last March when it became the first company of its kind, and first product overall, to gain HCAI approval as part of their new Prefabricated Components and Systems program. Partnering with HCAI to work through the review process for this new program was no small task, not only from an engineering perspective, but also including the nuances of off-construction site inspections, COVID-19 restrictions and HCAI’s transition from OSHPD.

We’ve seen healthcare providers lead the pack in their utilization of prefabricated components in building projects, for good reason. Prefabrication can incorporate custom finishes and design elements while simultaneously delivering more predictability in key project performance indicators. For providers looking to minimize disruptions and achieve faster speed-to-market, prefabrication can deliver results. For one, prefabricated components can be built sooner and concurrent to activities in the field, which helps save time on the project schedule. Building in a controlled factory setting safeguards against common external construction risk factors such as inclement weather, limited labor availability, and logistics, all with an increased level of quality and safety.

a line of prefabricated pods
Prefabrication can incorporate custom finishes and design elements while also delivering more predictability in key project indicators. Courtesy of SurePods

The collective summary of these improvements and their real time implementation will continue to drive this transition from field construction to field assembly until it simply becomes standard practice. That’s why SurePods, along with its strategic partners DPR, EIG and Digital Building Components, has a shared priority to advance prefabrication approaches in healthcare construction and beyond. Just as healthcare providers operate on the leading edge of their respective industries, DPR and its partners also seek opportunities to drive construction forward and improve project delivery with greater efficiency and predictability. It’s part of a shared ever forward mentality of continuous self-initiated improvement and learning.

The process of expanding prefabrication capabilities on the West Coast started in early 2021 when SurePods recognized that, while it was already serving much of the east coast urban environments from its Orlando, FL, plant there were additional opportunities out west. This past year, SurePods opened 40,000 sq. ft. of new dedicated factory space shared within the Digital Building Components’ plant in Phoenix, AZ, and through the help of San Francisco-based Forell Elsesser Structural Engineers, a strategy for west coast expansion took shape. Having fabrication plants located closer to projects enables teams to better meet customers’ needs in the region while reducing inherent freight time and costs. While there are other prefabrication companies out there, the investment and partnership between DPR and its strategic partners is unique in its scale, strength and embracement of shared priorities.

The implications of this expansion and HCAI approval are not limited to California’s healthcare market. Achieving pre-approval with the most stringent jurisdiction in the country proves the concept and benefits of prefabrication for all building types, including student housing, hospitality and commercial office projects, and provides higher levels of confidence to building owners and design teams. While the pipeline for such implementation and industry transformation is long and diverse, this is only the beginning of more great things to come.

Written by Jon Quigley, who helps lead prefabrication efforts for SurePods and Digital Building Components.

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