$250 million infrastructure makeover keeps UTHSC competitive

University of Tennessee Health Science Center is halfway through a five-year plan that includes $250 million in demolition, new construction and renovation to its campus.

 
In 2007, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) completed construction on the 90,000-square-foot, $25.2 million Cancer Research Building at the corner of Madison Avenue and Manassas Street. To say that the facility, or any improvement to the campus at all, was long overdue would be an understatement--it was the first new building for UTHSC in 17 years.
 
It was also the impetus for a formalized, five-year, $250 million master plan by the century-old institution.
 
Now at the midway mark, the plan includes numerous completed, underway or planned projects. The $49 million, 135,000-square-foot Translational Science Research Building is under construction at the corner of Manassas Street and Union Avenue and will be a mirror image to the Cancer Research Building that sits immediately to the north. The buildings of the Historic Quadrangle, a tree-canopied oasis that insulates students from the heavy traffic noise just to the south on Union Avenue, are due for a $68 million upgrade, with the Mooney Memorial Library being converted to administrative offices, reception area and meeting spaces, and the Nash Research Building and its annex renovated into research space. The Crowe Building there will become the College of Nursing.
 
The Shelton Feurt Pharmacy Research Building is across Dunlap Street from Health Sciences Park and will come down to make way for a $24.1 million Multi-Disciplinary Simulation and Health Education Building.
 
Upgrades and overhauls planned include the fourth floor of the Cancer Research Building for $4.8 million, $9.5 million on expanded research enterprises and office space in the Pharmacy Building, and retrofitting and renovating the medical library in the Lamar Alexander Building for $6.1 million.
 
Growth and upgrading are necessary to any institution of science and learning as technology is in constant flux, and as the recruitment of students and world-class researchers becomes increasingly more competitive.
 
"The infrastructure was very, very challenged," says Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Operations Officer Kennard Brown of his first exposure to the university campus.
 
Such infrastructure could be seen as a liability, unimpressive as it is to potential medical students. With 165 new enrollees per year, UTHSC is competing against several programs nationwide, including Duke, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt and Washington University among others, many of which can offer scholarships that a state school without a comparable endowment just can’t afford. In such an atmosphere, the facilities, the campus, whether or not the environment is conducive to learning and living, become all that more important to a student and his or her family.
 
"All of them are medical schools, we all graduate kids at the 98th, 99th percentile, we all have our standards, they all have to pass national boards to be physicians," Brown says. "So academically we're probably comparable, but what appeals to the kid, what appeals to mom?"
 
If the technology and infrastructure aren't keeping pace, there is a greater chance UTHSC--and Memphis--won't make the cut.
 
Recruitment becomes even more fierce for the researcher looking for a new facility. "With basic science research faculty, these guys will not come and work in antiquated laboratory space," says Brown.
 
The researchers in the new Cancer Research Building are grant funded by the National Institutes of Health for anywhere from $1 million to $3 million. "It's very sophisticated high-end research," says Brown. "Everybody in the country wants this guy … If he shows up here and we don't have the comparable facilities, Memphis is off the list."
 
Medical education and scientific research are big business, not just for the school but for the city and state. The economic impact of UTHSC on the Memphis economy amounts to $2 billion, according to a 2010 study conducted by the Sparks Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Memphis. For the past eight years, that research money from the NIH, as well as grants from federal and state governments and private foundations, has averaged $96 million annually. In addition, all physicians at Regional One Health and Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center are UTHSC faculty. 
 
"Buildings and the toys, the amenities, they mean a lot in this business," says Brown. "Kids won't come and faculty won't come unless you have those things."
 
With the current demolition and rebuilding, the footprint of the university will not change significantly, yet there are plans that may see it altered in the future. The old Holiday Inn building at the corner of Pauline and Madison to the east of campus is currently owned by the Memphis Bioworks Foundation, but UTHSC is "deep into the negotiations of acquiring that property from Bioworks," Brown said. Early renderings of the property show a $60 million building for the College of Medicine.
 
Discussions have begun to purchase a plot of land from Bioworks at Madison Avenue and Dudley Street as well for a research incubator. Property currently owned by the Mid-South Food Bank on Dudley, on the south side of Union, may also be purchased, stretching the campus further to the southeast for a Good Manufacturing Practices facility.
 
Brown says that one of the issues with project design historically has been that the medical community has not functioned as that--a community. With every entity having its own master plan, he continues, "never the twain shall meet."
 
So UTHSC has made a point to spend time with neighboring organizations to discuss collective strategy. Out of these discussions has come the plan, among others, for a Women's and Infants' Pavilion at Regional One Health.
 
Brown points to the enthusiasm and scope of a 7,000-acre residential and research community planned for Orlando, Fla., called the Lake Nona Institute, spearheaded by Tavistock Group, an international private investment organization.
 
"The project aimed to develop a master planned community and innovation cluster focused on biomedical research, clinical care and medical education in a healthy, eco-friendly environment," according to a report prepared by Harvard Business School.
 
While the Medical District in Memphis might not be such a ground-up community, Brown says "that's what we're striving for, greater collaboration," and he hopes to make a place for everyone--bioscience incubators, education, research, residential--at the table.
 
Currently, university researchers take advantage of the Bioworks incubator space, and Steven Bares, President and Executive Director of the Bioworks Foundation, sees opportunity for reciprocity.
 
"One could think of lots of ways where we could collaborate on joint space, and we certainly look forward to working together with the university," said Bares. "I think going forward, it would be great if the two organizations really organized and led a world-class space for companies and start-ups. I think that would be a really good, natural next step."
 
Brown's, and the university's, goal is to boost recruitment of students, researchers, faculty and medical tourism in Memphis. The renovation and new development of UTHSC within the Medical District is an investment, one that has been proven through its economic impact to be a viable and sound one.

Read more articles by Richard J. Alley.

A freelance writer since 2008, Richard’s work has appeared in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Magazine, Oxford American, The Memphis Flyer, River Times Magazine, Rhodes Magazine, The Commercial Appeal, and MBQ magazine among others, and in syndication through the Associated Press and Scripps Howard News Service. He is the editor of Development News for High Ground. Contact Richard.
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