Dawn Weinberger, Freelance Writer

New medical building to grace Portland’s south waterfront

OHSU prioritizes sustainability in construction of ‘Building One’

By Dawn Weinberger

From Interstate 5 in Southwest Portland, it resembles any other construction project. But Oregon Health and Science University’s new building, part of a south waterfront expansion project that will eventually turn the dreary stretch of Macadam Avenue along the Willamette River into a bustling commercial, residential and retail center, deserves a closer look.

The 16-story, 400,000-sq.ft. building, referred to as Building One until an official name is determined, won’t be a typical medical facility.

“The goal is to get away from the sterile environment of most hospitals,” said Project Architect Ron Huld of GBD Architects in Portland.

This will be accomplished in part by including an atrium — an extension of the surgery waiting room, with benches, a fountain, and lots of natural sunlight. The building design also incorporates several terraces, and parking is ample. A tram will even transport patients and staff between Building One and OHSU’s main Marquam Hill campus. Doctor’s offices, laborites, a fitness and wellness center, an outpatient surgery center, and a diagnostic imaging center will occupy the space inside.

Building one also boasts unitized curtain wall construction, a rare characteristic for a medical building.

“OHSU wants to build a different model,” said Mike Custer of Hoffman Construction of Oregon, the on-site project manager. “… We felt we could utilize many aspects of commercial design and make a better, friendlier-looking building.”

Custer compares the construction of Building One to the Fox Tower in downtown Portland, known for its quality and durability. Because all glass, granite and metal components are being fabricated off-site, on-site labor is minimized, safety increases, and ultimately, costs are reduced, Custer said. Additionally, the building’s long-term resilience is steadfast — its strength was assessed in advance of groundbreaking through a full mock-up, which was “literally beaten to death with wind tests,” Custer said.

“This building withstands everything,” he added.

Input from everyone
Rather than custom-designing space for each tenant, the standard for most hospital and medical construction, Building One is set-up more like an office building, Custer said. All 44 user groups, who signed on as tenants early in the process, contributed to design decisions, which helped architects make the most of the space. All floors have standard elements, like lobbies and restrooms, and follow a basic configuration (with the exception of surgical areas, which need to be built to hospital specifications).

Forgoing the custom-design aspect means the building will be more useable and cost-effective for future lessees, should any of the original tenants move out, Custer said. And, if this process results in more building for the money without giving up quality, there’s a strong possibility other institutions will follow OHSU’s lead on future projects, Custer said.

Going for the gold
Sustainability is another high priority. Already tracking in the gold range for LEED® certification, there is a possibility the building will end up achieving platinum status, Custer said. Key features include a radiant heating and cooling system, a rainwater reclamation system and displacement ventilation. The building will also having its own bioreactor, which will convert raw sewage into useable, non-potable water, and will be equipped with a building integrated photovoltaic (BIVP) feature, a system that converts solar energy into electrical power. Engineers and designers are also incorporating a microturbine for heat and power, which will eliminate up to two-thirds of wasted energy, said Project Engineer Andy Frichtl of Portland’s Interface Engineering.

“Our goal is 60 percent energy savings,” Frichtl said, adding that OHSU wanted to look for ways to save money upfront, and in the long-term.

Even the fitness and wellness center, a full-service gym featuring a four-lane lap pool, basketball courts, a cardio room, weights, and other workout amenities, will incorporate sustainable materials, such as saline in the swimming pool instead of chlorine. Huld is also hoping to use LEED®-certified flooring in the gym.

“There aren’t a lot of choices (when it comes to sustainable flooring), so now it is more of a cost issue,” Huld said.

A needed addition
Already nearly a year into construction (Hoffman broke ground on April 15, 2004), Building One should be ready for occupancy by September 2006. OHSU staff and the community will undoubtedly be ready for it.

“OHSU has had dramatic growth in the last 30 years,” said Mark Williams, director of OHSU’s south waterfront project, which includes Building One, along with three nearby blocks that will likely be developed in the near future. “Our budget has gone from well under $100 million a year to $1.2 billion. We are a growth industry, and (this significant growth) led us into a very cooperative and collaborative process with the City of Portland and some private landowners to start creating and transforming what had been a post-industrial area into a 21st-century neighborhood.”

OHSU earmarked $145 million for the Building One project, with $100 million going toward direct construction. Hoffman won the contract through the CMGC (Contract Management/General Contractor) method, after submitting proposals and attending interviews. Hoffman is also currently working in conjunction with Portland-based Anderson Construction on a main campus expansion which includes a new patient-care facility and a biomedical research lab.


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