Construction continues on the site of the Louisville VA Medical Center July 5
Pier drilling takes place as part of the construction of the South Parking Garage on the site of the Louisville VA Medical Center July 23, 2023. (Photo Credit: Michael Maddox) VIEW ORIGINAL

Louisville, Ky. – For most construction projects, progress can be visually measured as structures start to come out of the ground and begin to take shape. This would not be possible without the foundations that transfers the loads of the vertical structures to the soil safely. Part of that foundation work can include the installation of drilled piers.

The Louisville VA Medical Center project recently achieved the completion of a major feature of work by reaching the milestone of “bottoming out” with the installation of the last of 1,057 drilled piers across the site. The drilled piers ranged from 24 to 72 inches in diameter and from five to 35 feet in depth.

All buildings have some type of foundation. Most residential buildings have what is called shallow foundations which generally include spread footings to prevent the building from settling. Drilled piers are a type of deep foundation, which is generally utilized for larger buildings, like the Louisville VA Medical Center, said David Garvin, geotechnical engineer.

Louisville VAMC project reaches “bottoming out” milestone
Rock sockets like these need to be bored out during the pier drilling process to reach the proper depth for maximum strength. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

“Drilled piers connect structures directly to the bedrock - keeping the building in place by minimizing settlement and lateral loads from outside forces such as wind loads, seismic loads, etc.,” he explained. “Since drilled piers are below the building, they are advanced from the top of the ground until bedrock is reached, with rebar and concrete placed, then the pier is tied into a column or grade beam.”

“Once the drilled pier is tied into the column or grade beam, the steel beams will be placed on top of it. After all steel beams are placed the loads from the entire building will transfer down to the drilled piers and disperse evenly throughout all drilled piers,” Garvin said. “The drilled piers are one of the main components that keep the building in place.”

LOUVAMC Construction continues Sept. 2, 2022
At times there were multiple drill rigs working on the site of the Louisville VA Medical Center to prepare the earth for drilled piers. (Photo Credit: Michael Maddox) VIEW ORIGINAL

With drilled piers playing such a key role, it’s important that they are placed with precision.

“There are many things to keep in mind when drilling piers. First, you need to drill through soil until bedrock is reached, this is usually easy to complete but the hardest part is ensuring the pier is drilled at the correct location,” he said. “Then, the drillers will reach bedrock. Once drilling through the rock is complete, the rock socket and bearing surface will be inspected. A professional experienced with inspecting drilled piers will perform a downhole inspection to ensure the rock socket and bearing surface is competent.”

“The last step is cleaning out the pier and placing rebar and concrete. The piers are cleaned out via downhole entry and after the pier is cleaned the rebar will be placed in the pier,” he added.

Garvin said looking back that the work went well with only a few minor issues.

“It seems like the start of this feature of work had its challenges, but after identifying the problems and coming up with solutions, the process was smooth sailing,” he said.

LOUVAMC Construction continues July 14, 2022
The last step to complete a drilled pier is placing rebar and concrete. (Photo Credit: Michael Maddox) VIEW ORIGINAL

The $900 million project includes the construction of a new 910,115 square-foot medical center, parking structures, a 42,205 square-foot central utility plant, roadways, sidewalks, and other site improvements.

The new 104-bed, full-service hospital will provide world-class healthcare for more than 45,000 Veterans in Kentucky and Southern Indiana by integrating modern patient-centered care concepts to provide the best possible care for Veterans. In addition, to specifically address the needs of women Veterans, the new hospital will include a Women’s Health Clinic with four Patient Aligned Care Teams.

The project designed by URS-Smith Group Joint Venture is being constructed by Walsh-Turner Joint Venture II, Chicago, Illinois.

Construction is anticipated to be complete in 2026.

To learn more about the project visit: www.va.gov/louisville-health-care/programs/new-robley-rex-va-medical-center.