A small architecture firm in Angels Camp is helping to rebuild a tornado-ravaged town halfway across the country with high-tech modular buildings.

Aspen Street Architects is in charge of building a temporary home for St. John's Regional Medical Center after a massive twister destroyed the building in Joplin, Mo.

The firm is designing modular hospital units to fit together like a giant jigsaw puzzle, with the goal of completing construction in April, according to company founder Dave Hitchcock.

On May 22, an F5 level tornado touched down near the southern Missouri

town, cut a path of destruction that killed 161 people, smashed about

7,500 homes and 500 other buildings and caused roughly $2.8 billion in


Hitchcock was in the area in the weeks following the disaster to

survey the damage and plan a way to rebuild the crumbling hospital.

"There wasn't anything left," he said. "(The tornado) cut a distinct line across the city."

With its primary building crippled, St. John's set up in a series of tents in the hospital parking lot.

Hitchcock has experience building modular hospital units that

barrow a concept long used in California public schools. When the

homeless Missouri hospital needed a quick solution, they called


"They came to us and said, 'We need a hospital and we need it fast,'" he said.

When many people think of prefabricated buildings, they imagine

flimsy structures that deteriorate quickly. Hitchcock's buildings by

contrast are built of steel and concrete and are designed to last at

least 100 years.

"Once you're inside, it's every bit a permanent structure," he said.

The modular acute care hospital units are built in a factory in

Riverside, and come with air conditioning, electrical and oxygen

linkages pre-installed. The advantage to building in a factory versus

on site is that workers don't have to halt construction in bad weather,

Hitchcock said.

Additionally, the modular units and foundation can be constructed simultaneously.

When the temporary hospital is finished in April, it will be made

of 260 60-foot-long by 14-foot-wide units, each weighing 20 tons. A

nonstop caravan of trucks will deliver 20 shrink wrapped units a week

until the building is finished.

The 150,000-square-foot prefabricated building will have 142 beds

and stand at the site for at least the next three years while a larger

permanent hospital is built elsewhere in town. When the brick and

mortar hospital is finished, the modular units will be disassembled and

distributed for use at hospitals throughout Missouri.

Founded in 1982, Aspen Street Architects has grown to 15 employees

and typically designs school and hospital projects as well as civil

engineering projects and water systems.

The company has worked at sites throughout California and has built

projects at Bret Harte High School and Mark Twain St. Joseph's Hospital.

Contact Ryan Campbell at rcampbell@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4526.