College students created health clinics from shipping containers

Learn more about the student-run BUILD organization. 

Volunteers for BUILD, a service organization led by Texas A&M construction science and environmental design students, converted four shipping containers into mobile medical clinics to serve remote, impoverished areas of Africa and Central America, and aid Syrian refugees in Greece.

Since late September, BUILD members and community volunteers worked during daylight hours at a job site near Texas A&M’s General Services Complex to meet a Nov. 13 deadline.

The completed clinics will be stocked with medical supplies and transported by global health organizations to Haiti, Honduras, Kenya and Greece.

Environmental design major Paul McCoy led the BUILD design and construction team that developed plans for repurposing the shipping containers into modern medical clinics.

“We designed as much of an open canvas as possible so the clinic space can be customized for different situations,” said McCoy. “The clinics will be transported to four different countries with different medical needs, demographics and cultures.”

Each 8’ x 48’ space includes a one-foot wall along the length of the container to house plumbing and electrical systems and a rail system on the ceiling so that clinic operators can move curtains to create custom spaces.

For procedures that require privacy, a 7’ x 11’ area in the back of the container is separated from the rest of the space by a wall and a pocket door.

The project played an important part in BUILD students' education, said Marcel Erminy, an associate professor of practice at Texas A&M who toured the jobsite where several of his students were working. "To design the space and then be a part of the building process is the best kind of hands-on experience any student could have."

The project, under construction since Sept. 28, drew student volunteers from every college at Texas A&M, said Martin Montgomery, an operations team leader and undergraduate construction science major. Approximately 45 of the project’s 72 student volunteers were from the College of Architecture, and 30 of those were construction science majors, he said.

Students also got help from retirees in the Bryan/College Station area who have worked on other building projects such as Habitat For Humanity.

“We think the project is cool and important,” said retired volunteer John Woods as he toted freshly painted wood to one of the containers. “We’re working with a really good group of student supervisors.”

This is the second consecutive year BUILD has created four medical clinics from containers. Many of the students in their second year with BUILD, made changes to last year’s procedures to streamline the building process.

“In 2014, we tried to keep a set construction schedule, but things kept popping up,” said Montgomery. “This year is more of an open-ended schedule to allow ourselves more flexibility.”

BUILD members will repeat the effort in 2016, converting another four shipping containers into clinics. Their plan is to complete 12 clinics in memory of the 12 students who died in the 1999 Bonfire collapse.

Funds and materials donated by individuals, area businesses and civic groups paid for the clinic conversions. Montgomery estimated the total value of the project, including donated materials, at $250,000.

posted November 12, 2015