May 26, 2020
Editor's Note: This post was updated on Sept.10, 2020.
Houston’s largest hotel, Hilton Americas, first opened its doors in 2003 to host hundreds of sports fans for Super Bowl XXXVIII. Sixteen years later, DPR Construction partnered with Hilton, Houston First and Gensler to undertake a major renovation of this award-winning AAA 4-Diamond property in the heart of downtown. The renovation includes significant demolition, build back and upgrades to all 1,200 guestrooms and corridors, alcoves, landings and elevator lobbies on all 17 guestroom floors.
Phase 1 got under way in June 2019, with the first 600 guest rooms completed by December. The project then paused to allow for planned downtown conferences—some in the adjacent George R. Brown Convention Center—that included events for large tech firms and big businesses. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these conferences were cancelled and DPR was asked to remobilize earlier than planned to complete Phase 2—the remaining 600 guest rooms.
“Working in an active hotel in the middle of downtown is already challenging. Add in a global pandemic, and the challenges only increase,” says Houston Business Unit Leader, Nick Abay.
DPR worked closely with Hilton and Houston First to develop a comprehensive COVID-19 Emergency Response/Mitigation Plan, that includes:
- A rigorous sign-in/health screening process with a sophisticated QR Code system, unique electronic badging, bilingual staff, infrared thermometer scans and color-coded wrist bands that alternate each day.
- A second sign-in/screening location at the one and only entry/egress into the building as a second COVID-19 stage gate.
- The implementation of four (4) separate shifts to manage the more than 250 people who are on-site during an average workday.
- Dedicated freight elevators, with delivery access and debris removal scheduled at specified times to manage the limited loading dock space available.
- Additional temporary restrooms and touchless handwashing stations.
These steps are part of a set of comprehensive EHS protocols that, when properly planned and executed, demonstrate that construction can continue to move forward without compromising the safety of employees or the community.
To allow for the Centers for Disease Control’s recommended six feet of social distancing, DPR also worked with Hilton to identify a larger office space within the hotel. The larger area allows DPR staff and other project stakeholders to carry out administrative functions and hold daily meetings while maintaining a safe physical distance.
These measures complement the safety protocols being developed by Hilton to protect its staff and guests. From seals placed on guestroom doors after cleaning, showing that no one has since accessed the room, to contactless check-in and extra cleaning of high touch areas, the industry is preparing for a necessary new travel experience.
Construction continues as the hotel still hosts guests, most of whom are part of the COVID-19 response: troops from the Texas National Guard, who are providing support to the Houston Food Bank, along with healthcare workers providing front-line support to patients in the Greater Houston Area.
The 509,289-sq.ft. project is a careful balance between construction and hotel operations. With continued room occupancy, work is being completed in blocks of 11 guestrooms—up to 298 rooms out of order or under construction at any one time. Of course, this couldn’t be possible without the value of DPR’s Self-Perform Work teams. Hilton Americas is the largest SPW project in Houston to date with over 55 craft working in the following scopes: demolition, drywall, wood blocking, tape and float, doors, frames and hardware, specialties, and FFE warehousing and installations. Even with the COVID -19 impacts on Phase 2 renovations, the SPW crews are trending an improvement in estimated man hours by as much as 10-15%.
“Using multiple scheduling tools, including a ‘Room Work Status board’ that displays the current status of each individual room as it progresses through the 28-day renovation cycle, our team is able to closely track progress and strive for guest rooms with zero defects,” said Ryan Schoeneberg, DPR superintendent. “With a total of 1,200 individual punch lists spanning 17 floors, this is critical to minimize rework and maintain our aggressive schedule.”
This high-profile project at Hilton Americas continues to excel in challenging conditions. Chris Gehring, Senior Project Manager, summarizes the experience with a nod to company culture. “DPR is proud to support Hilton, Houston First and our State and local front-line workers on this major renovation of a Houston icon.”