After a 27-year career in the military and many years of subsequent experience with one of the world’s largest contractors, I’ve seen my share of ambitious development projects. Before joining Dewberry, for example, I helped oversee design and construction of the large U.S. embassy complex in war-torn Kabul, Afghanistan—a project which, I was sure at the time, would be the most demanding of my career.

That is, until I started on the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital. This $1-billion, 1.27-million-square-foot complex kicked off in late 2006 and is now welcoming its first patients, including a baby born on August 31—the first patient day! Design and construction of the hospital has been monumental in scope, stringent in project requirements (including sustainability), and record-setting in pace. A healthcare facility of this size and complexity normally takes 10 to 12 years to go from the planning phases to opening its doors; our team did it in five years and three months.

The Fort Belvoir Community Hospital is an all-new facility set on 75 acres, with vast requirements for infrastructure and an accelerated schedule necessitated by the 2005 BRAC legislation. The Integrated-Design-Bid-Build (IDBB) contract brought together veteran industry leaders in design and construction. We are teamed with HDR, with HDR providing hospital design and Dewberry providing design of many of the support facilities, parking garages, and infrastructure, including the central utility plant and roadways. Turner Construction and Gilbane Building Company joined forces as the joint venture contractor. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Army’s Health Facilities Planning Agency, and the Fort Belvoir Installation were the other critical members of the team.

The hospital, with its size, design requirements, and patient- and community-friendly philosophies, is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my long military career. It’s a world-class facility that has been toured by representatives from other governments and healthcare organizations internationally and from all over the United States. The most important visits were by the wounded warriors and their families—that was the “higher purpose” that kept us all focused. Fittingly, the IDBB process—with its persistent emphasis on partnering—has also been unlike any other design and construction process I’ve encountered.

Many public projects emphasize some form of partnering among team members. The Fort Belvoir Community Hospital effort took this concept to an entirely new level. In these teaming meetings, before design began or dirt was turned, we were building something big: trust and confidence, and a strong sense of commitment, cooperation, and mutual support. As a result, over the past five years, we’ve successfully met challenge after challenge. Now, as the patients arrive and the final weeks of commissioning and punch list wrap up, the value of that partnering process is crystal clear.

With the intense pace we’ve been under, I’ve often said that this project has been like a full-contact sport. And just like any team sport, we’ve thrived on that trust and confidence we have in one another. In the end, we haven’t just built a hospital—we’ve built lifelong friendships.