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Feature Story - August 2009

Vital Signs: Activity pulsing at Texas Medical Center

The world’s largest health-care district, Houston’s Texas Medical Center, continues to grow.

By Debra Wood

The Texas Medical Center in Houston, with more than $3.3 billion in construction projects under way on 17 sites at its 1,000-acre complex, is buzzing with activity.

Multiple projects, valued at $3.3 billion, are under way at the Texas Medical Center in Houston.
Multiple projects, valued at $3.3 billion, are under way at the Texas Medical Center in Houston. (Photo courtesy of the Texas Medical Center Corp.)

“There are cranes all over; it’s our bird,” says Bob Stott, executive vice president of planning and development for the Texas Medical Center Corp. “When we are done, we will have 40 million sq ft of occupied space.” If you consider downtown business space, it’s the seventh largest downtown business district in the United States.”

Forty-seven healing, education and research institutions, half agencies of government and half private, not-for profit health facilities, comprise the medical center. Cumulatively, they conduct more than $1 billion in research annually. And 5.5 million people seek care from the facilities each year.

The M. D. Anderson Foundation bought the land for the Texas Medical Center in 1942 and began giving parcels away for free. Its hospital is now known at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Several of the health institutions are in the midst of major expansion projects. The city and county are building roads. The Texas Medical Center is rerunning utility lines and upgrading its concrete roads. And the Thermal Energy Corp. of Houston, which provides chilled water and steam to most of the medical center’s institutions, is expanding to meet the additional demand.

“Working in the Texas Medical Center is like working in Lower Manhattan,” says Rick Gremillion, vice president for the Houston Area for Broaddus & Associates, which is providing supplemental program management staff to Texas Children’s Hospital. “There is no room for anything. The buildings all sit close to each other.”

Texas Children’s Hospital Texas Children’s Hospital is adding the 407,000-sq-ft Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute and a 720,000-sq-ft Maternity Center to its campus as part of a $1.5-billion growth plan. Inside Healthcare reported in August 2007 that the research institute would cost $215 million and the maternity center $575 million. Texas Children’s and its construction firms would not release costs.

Tellepsen Builders is the general contractor for the 13-story Texas Children’s Hospital Neurological Research Institute.
Tellepsen Builders is the general contractor for the 13-story Texas Children’s Hospital Neurological Research Institute. (Photo by C. Richard Cotton)

“The NRI project is, I am told, the first neurological research institute for pediatrics in the country,” Gremillion says.

Perkins+Will of Houston designed the concrete-frame institute. It features “a tower on one corner that twists to mimic the spiral of DNA,” Gremillion says. “That part of the building also is reinforced concrete with towers that lean and twist with the structure.”

Each floor twists from left to right 4 degrees, adds Greg Stringer, senior vice president of Tellepsen Builders of Houston.

“The slabs are vertically straight, but the corners are not the same,” Stringer says. “Each floor is different, and that makes it more difficult to build.”

Tellepsen began construction on the 13-story, 347,000-sq-ft, above-grade research center and two-level, 60,000-sq-ft below grade parking deck in January 2008 and topped out in April. It contains wet labs and 39,000 sq ft of vivarium space. The project, which consumed 33,000 cu yds of concrete, is scheduled for completion in 2010.

The research institute will connect with the second floor of the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center and the John P. McGovern parking garage. In the future, overhead walkways will connect it with Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Texas dental school.

Foundation work under way by W.S. Bellows Construction Corp. at the $535-million Texas Childrens Hospital Maternity Center.
Foundation work under way by W.S. Bellows Construction Corp. at the $535-million Texas Childrens Hospital Maternity Center. (Photo by C. Richard Cotton)

W.S. Bellows Construction Corp. of Houston is constructing the 15-story, above-grade and four levels below-grade maternity center, designed by FKP Architects of Houston. Two portions of the mat are placed, with the concrete-frame structure rising above, while crews continue to complete the balance of the foundation.

“The third section of the mat has not been poured, and that’s because of needing to keep the truck access ramp in,” Gremillion says. Completion is scheduled for mid-2011.

University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center McCarthy Building Cos. of Dallas is building a 12-story, concrete-frame addition to the existing 12-story Albert B. and Margaret M. Alkek Hospital at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. The $220-million, 500,000-sq-ft, design-build project began in 2006, and construction started in January 2008. HKS of Dallas designed the bed-tower expansion.

The original, 20-year-old building was designed to accept additional floors. McCarthy opened the roof and began adding concrete columns where the old ones left off. Crews have applied carbon fiber wrap to existing sheer walls on four floors.

McCarthy also is adding a steel elevator tower in front of the facility. Mechanical and electrical tie-ins require work on many floors, says Ben Johanneman, project director for McCarthy.

The new tower features 154 beds on three floors; five shelled floors for future expansion; a support and maintenance facility floor; pharmacy; 24th-floor observation deck with views of the city; and a newmechanical floor on level 13, which is on the roof of the existing structure.

“We’ve set air handling units on the existing roof, and we still haven’t completed the enclosure,” Johanneman says. “So we have to do temporary roofing.”

McCarthy is extending existing exhaust ducts up through the new building for release to air above the structure to avoid dispersing possibly harmful exhaust near construction workers.

Despite 45,000-sq-ft floor plates, McCarthy is completing the project with one tower crane, installed through the existing building’s elevator shaft.

The project is scheduled for completion in June 2010.

The Methodist Hospital System Hensel Phelps Construction Co. of Houston began construction in September 2006 on the Methodist Hospital System’s $237-million, 1.6 million-sq-ft, 26-story, above-grade Outpatient Center, with two-levels of parking and loading docks below grade. About half of the occupied space houses 14 surgical suites, central sterile supply and diagnostic imaging and infusion oncology units. Methodist will leave about 140,000 sq ft of the occupied space shelled for future expansion. The project includes a 1,370-car, 852,000-sq-ft parking garage.

Workers at The Methodist Hospital Research Institute reach for metal studs to be used for partitions in the structure being built by Harvey Builders.
Workers at The Methodist Hospital Research Institute reach for metal studs to be used for partitions in the structure being built by Harvey Builders. (Photo by C. Richard Cotton)

“Almost every one of the service lines exist today, but they are imbedded in inpatient facilities and different areas,” says Sid Sanders, vice president of facilities planning and development for Methodist. “This is a way to bring them all into one location, in state-of-the-art, modern facilities.”

The pan-formed concrete, multishaped building sits on two, 7.5-ft-thick, concrete-mat slabs, totaling about 10,000 cu yds.

“We placed the mat slab, both of them on or before the date we projected,” says Michael Dwight, project manager for Hensel Phelps. “That set the pace and the tone for staying on schedule as we moved through the concrete structure.”

The first 17 floors are L-shapedwith a 68,000-sq-ft floor plate, and the upper floors are triangular shaped, with a 33,000-sq-ft floor plate.

The new structure is located within inches of an existing hospital. The central utilities plant, with chillers, boilers and emergency generators is on the 17th floor. The cooling tower is at the top, at level 25. Crews hoisted all of the equipment to the upper levels.

Hensel Phelps Construction Co. is building the Methodist Outpatient Center.
Hensel Phelps Construction Co. is building the Methodist Outpatient Center. (Photo by C. Richard Cotton)

“There was no place to exhaust anything, except through the roof at level 18,” Dwight says.

The exterior is faced with decorative metal, a unitized curtain-wall system, metal panels and louvers, architectural precast concrete and granite at the base. The unitized curtain-wall system rises about 60 ft above the roof line at one side and 12 ft at another, creating a screen wall to conceal the cooling tower. An architectural crown sits atop the building.

A steel spire begins on level 13 and extends 130 ft above the screen wall. Hensel Phelps will set upper portions of it with helicopters. Two smaller spires rise behind it. An extensive exterior, LED lighting scheme will illuminate the spires.

“It has a marked impact on the skyline. It’s a very unique looking building at the top,” Dwight says.

Methodist is extending John Freeman Boulevard under and through the building, which was designed by WHR Architects of Houston. Broaddus & Associates serves as program manager. Construction is scheduled to finish in summer 2010.

D.E. Harvey Builders of Houston is constructing the $218-million, 12-story 438,000-sq-ft Methodist Hospital Research Institute on the inner portion of the campus. It features six laboratory floors, a vivarium for large and small animals, an imaging suite, biosafety level 3 laboratory and conferencing center with an auditorium.

“We had some research space but not adequate for the amount of research our executive management and board wanted to pursue in the future,” Sanders says. “It is primarily for translational and clinical research.”

In addition to the research space, the concrete-frame building will house the Methodist Institute for Technology, Innovation and Education, a surgical training facility with simulated and robotic capabilities that allow surgeons to work on mannequins, cadavaric parts or animals to perfect surgical skills.

WHR in association with Kohn Pederson Fox of New York designed the research center. A mat foundation supports the structure. It is clad in curtain wall and architectural precast panels, with some metal detailing.

Methodist plans a 1 million-sq-ft inpatient tower, now in schematic design, to replace its oldest hospital. Construction may begin in the next couple of years.

Baylor College of Medicine Linbeck broke ground in May 2007 on the $230-million, 1.2-million-sq-ft Baylor Clinic and Hospital for the Baylor College of Medicine. HOK of Houston designed the facility.

The Baylor project was scheduled to include an adult hospital, outpatient clinics, faculty offices and research space and open in 2011. On March 25, Baylor announced it had decided to temporarily suspend construction on the interior once the exterior is finished in early 2010, due to unspecified “economic factors.”

Infrastructure Improvements

The city of Houston is wrapping up $11.5 million in improvements to Holcombe Boulevard. Texas Sterling Construction Co. of Houston repaved Holcombe and installed a 30-in. water main, rehabilitated an existing sanitary sewer, widened the traffic lanes and landscaped the medians. The work included improvements on adjacent roads.

Texas Sterling also is relocating and elevating paired roads through Hermann Park coming off SH 288 into the Texas Medical Center for the City of Houston. The $5.4-million project is scheduled for completion in October.

Triple B Services of Huffman, Texas, is extending Bertner Avenue from Old Spanish Trail to South Braeswood Boulevard. The $3.7-million project, constructing a four-lane concrete road for the city, should wrap up in October.

The city, Harris County and the community pitched in to build the $8-million Richard E. Wainerdi Bridge, which will connect the trauma centers to IH-610. South Coast Construction Services of Houston is constructing the bridge.

In addition to the municipal projects, the Texas Medical Center is in the midst of a $40-million, 10-year project to replace all of its concrete roads and upgrade underground utilities. It currently is redoing John Freeman Boulevard, a main entrance to the center. Texas Sterling also is completing that work.

“We have a standard for our roads,” says Bob Stott, executive vice president of planning and development for the Texas Medical Center Corp.. “We want roads that will last for a long period of time.”

Stott says Harris County is poised to widen Brays Bayou, which bisects the center, dividing the Main Campus from the Mid Campus directly south of the bayou, to improve flood control. The physical plant is also being expanded, including the construction of a water storage tank and installation of 60-in. chilled water lines.

Approximately 200 acres of the center’s 1,000 acres, which includes the adjacent Rice University campus--not including the school’s structures in building sq ft), remain open for development. Stott says as much as 30 million sq ft of space could be fit in largely undeveloped Mid Campus.

“The land is given to the institutions but it is covenant-restricted,” Stott says. “It’s an organized kind of place, it’s a city. It all gets done through collaboration.”

The Thermal Energy Corp.’s $370-million, three-phase expansion will increase its 80,000-ton chilled-water capacity by 50% and increase its emergency power generation by 50 megawatts, while converting the plant to a combined heat and power facility.

Steve Swinson, president and CEO of Thermal Energy, estimates the company will ultimately double its capacity without increasing its fuel consumption.

“Instead of buying power to make chilled water, we will produce our own power,” he says. And “the waste heat will allow us to produce steam.”

Burns & McDonnell of Houston is completing the work. The new chilled-water facility will come online in October, the gas turbine in June 2010 and an East Chiller Building in 2011.

“The city of Houston has contributed a huge amount of infrastructure,” Stott says, pointing out a recent widening of Holcombe Boulevard, the main east-west artery through the center, and construction of Richard Wainerdi Bridge, which is key to continuing construction of a corridor from IH-610 to the south and the interior of the medical center facilities.

Stott says that in the future, the Texas Medical Center plans to demolish more than 1 million sq ft of existing structures to make room for new buildings, and it expects to add 20 million sq ft of additional space by 2014. Debra Wood and C. Richard Cotton.



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