Friday, September 18, 2009

OSU Medical Center expansion gets initial OK

Business First of Columbus - by Carrie Ghose

Ohio State University’s new medical center tower will reach as high as its skyscraper dormitories and stretch longer than its fabled football field.

Its footprint on the Central Ohio economy will be equally immense.

The $1 billion expansion of OSU Medical Center, the largest project ever undertaken at Ohio State, received unanimous approval from a trustees committee Thursday, with full board approval expected Friday morning.

“This is a major milestone for our medical center. This is a major milestone for our university,” said Alan Brass, chairman of the medical center affairs committee. “... So many of our academic colleagues and their enterprises are not able to do this kind of project right now.”

The medical center is projected to add 6,000 jobs with the expansion, which is expected to open in 2014, and supportive businesses will likely add 4,000 jobs, OSU said. Including indirect jobs from increased economic activity, the university estimates the project will be responsible for a total of nearly 32,000 new jobs. Construction will require another 5,000 workers over the next five years.

The university estimates that the medical center will spend $2.3 billion yearly and generate $1.8 billion in ancillary business by 2015 – together a 71 percent increase from its $2.4 billion economic impact in 2008.

The project also will be a boon to recruiting top researchers and improving patient care, said Dr. Steven Gabbe, medical center CEO.

“This hospital has to be a place of hope,” he said. “This is where our sickest patients are going to be cared for.”

New tower for James

A few projects are complete, most notably a two-story addition to Ross Heart Hospital, but the board action clears the way for the bulk of the expansion – a 17-story hospital building. The design has changed significantly from concepts discussed last year, reducing a price tag that had ballooned to $1.4 billion from the $780 million project proposed in 2006.

A five-story core of outpatient and support services will connect to the existing University Hospital. Topping it will be five stories with room for 144 additional critical care beds and a seven-story, 276-bed replacement for James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.

The medical center keeps its existing 119 critical care beds at the main campus and University Hospital East, and the 160 beds in the existing James will be used for other purposes such as transplants.

Despite recent or planned hospital construction in every other Columbus hospital system, the challenge is waiting for the new beds to come online, Gabbe said. The James is more than 90 percent full on any given day.

OSU hospitals since 2000 have seen a 42 percent increase in admissions, to 55,000 in the year ended June 30, and 55 percent increase in outpatient visits, to 980,000. Revenue nearly tripled to $1.6 billion in that time, and last year’s surplus was $122 million, compared with a $41 million loss in 2000.

Several design changes slashed $400 million from the project without sacrificing, Gabbe said. The new design instead improves aesthetics, energy use and traffic flow, he said.

“We feel we’ve made a huge difference in having an easily accessible patient environment,” Gabbe said. “Especially when they’re coming to be treated for cancer, they have a lot on their minds.”

The promise of the new hospital has helped with several major faculty recruits, he said. “People are contacting us.”

Big savings came from scrapping a plan to build a separate complex for outpatient cancer care and research across Cannon Drive from the main hospital campus. Incorporating outpatient care in the new building and research on every floor of the hospital not only saves money but brings research, clinical care and education into closer proximity, Gabbe said. Bridges will connect the hospital to existing laboratory buildings as well.

Also gone is an early concept for twin curving glass towers, facing each other to create a football shape as seen from the air. Curved hallways have poor sight lines, the inner atrium wouldn’t have had enough sun and glass is more expensive than the brick and metal that will form part of the exterior in the new design, said Jay Kasey, project director.

Also, the new design ensures every patient in the new James will have an outside view, Gabbe said.

Clearing space, adding parking

The new hospital will sit on the site of the demolished Means Hall, and designers now call for tearing down Cramblett Hall, an office and outpatient building. That would enable shifting the whole building slightly south, eliminating the need to tear down and replace a parking garage. It also allows for green space and a more convenient drive for patient pickup and drop-off on the way to parking.

The 600-spot garage next to the new hospital will be designated for patients and visitors, while staff will park in a 1,000-spot garage on Ninth Avenue built in preparation for the expansion.

Designers are aiming for LEED certification, with sun shades and a green roof among other sustainability measures, Kasey said. All-electronic records and bedside computers will make for a paperless facility.

St. Louis-based HOK, which specializes in green design, is the architect. The New York City-based team of Turner Construction Co. and Bovis Lend Lease were selected last fall as co-construction managers for the main expansion.

Medical center officials have raised $13 million of the required $75 million in private fundraising for the project, with the rest to be financed by university bonds.

There are a handful of academic medical center projects of this size in the nation, Kasey said. “Before the economic downturn, there may have been 10.”

Atlanta’s Emory University in March delayed a $1.5 billion expansion of Emory Healthcare. That’s where Dr. Fred Sanfilippo, who first spearheaded OSU’s expansion, departed for in 2007.


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