The Sound of Progress
This week's column is about the construction projects going on around us.
Yes, they seemingly are taking over our world. And I can say that from personal experience.
I can't see the site preparation going on for a new medical school education building just outside my boarded up window, but I can hear it. Digging, crushing, loading. Several times this week I've been run out of my office by the bone-rattling noise of a jackhammer.
But I have to confess, it's music to my ears. All three major construction projects - the medical school, the Translational Research Center, and Parking Garage C - are finally in full swing. And that means we'll soon be enjoying them and the exciting new opportunities they will bring.
Let me talk about each one in the order in which they'll be completed.
Site preparation began this week on the new parking garage, just east of the School of Dentistry. This is on target for completion a little over a year from now, in summer of 2016. With eight levels and more than 900 spaces, the garage will cost about $20 million and be paid for by UMMC construction bonds that will be repaid with parking fees. Obviously the garage will bring major relief to our current parking challenges.
In conjunction with the garage, East University Drive is being improved and widened all the way down to the frontage road that runs parallel to Woodrow Wilson. Initial work on the road has been completed to allow the garage to commence. Ultimately this entire stretch of road will be temporarily closed, and patients and staff will access the Pavilion via Parking Lot 14. The target completion date for the road is also summer 2016.
The School of Medicine education building is on target for completion about two years from now, in spring 2017. The building, which includes classrooms, offices and simulation areas, will be a visual anchor for the northeast corner of campus and will be fronted by a circular drive.
The medical school building will cost about $65 million to construct and is being paid for primarily with state bonds. From a strategic perspective, it's a necessary step on the critical path to expanding our medical school class size from about 145 now to about 170 when the new building comes on line. Ultimately that growth will mean more physicians for Mississippi.
Although it's furthest along, the Translational Research Center is scheduled to come on line last among these projects, in the summer of 2017. The cost is $45 million, primarily from the federal government but also from research overhead and private philanthropic funds.
This building also has strategic importance. As the name implies, it will position us to "translate" laboratory discoveries to the clinical setting. It will also have dedicated incubator space for private companies to partner with us on the development of new therapies and other interventions.
Across Lakeland Drive, the Meridian mixed-use apartment project is also hitting its stride, now that we've had some dry weather. This $33 million private development will not be owned or operated by UMMC, although we are leasing the land to the developer. Scheduled for completion just about a year from now in spring 2016, the project will bring some 200 high quality apartments to within walking distance from campus and will be an asset to our community.
In response to earlier columns, several of you have asked, "If we have all this money for new buildings, why can't we spend some of it on raises?" The answer is that the money I've talked about above is restricted in its use to the specific project it's tied to. Generally speaking, funds for our compensation have to come from operating revenues that we earn, from grants or contracts, or from recurring state appropriations.
The other comment I've received numerous times is about wayfinding around campus amid all the construction. With road closures in particular, I'm afraid our patients and visitors are sometimes hopelessly lost.
The good news is, help is on the way. Our construction team has begun deploying new, improved signs to better direct our patients to the right locations. And just this morning we've placed a new feature on the UMMC home page (www.umc.edu) that provides a handy set of maps and written directions to help visitors navigate our campus during this period of disruption. You'll see it in the lower left corner under the heading: HOW TO FIND US. I ask you to please share this link with our patients and others so we can get them to their appointment in the most direct way possible.
Just think, in two years our campus will be significantly transformed with the addition of these new buildings and a third parking deck. Until then we can count on more disruption - and a lot more noise - but we'll make the best of it on our way to A Healthier Mississippi.