Rush hospital clearing land to build outpatient care center

SHARE Rush hospital clearing land to build outpatient care center

Rush University Medical Center, 1653 W. Congress Pkwy. | Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media

Rush University Medical Center has pulled demolition permits to clear three blocks of West Harrison Street, including townhomes once used for student housing, to make way for a new outpatient care center connected to the rebuilt hospital.

“We’re trying to accommodate the tremendous growth in outpatient care. Most care is moving to outpatient care, leaving hospitals for the more critical care. We’re at the limit of our capacity here,” Rush University Medical Center spokesman John Pontarelli said Wednesday.

“The land is being cleared to build a new outpatient care center that will be connected to our hospital. We’re consolidating all of our outpatient offices . . . into one convenient center for patients. They’re [now] in multiple sites across our campus on many different floors in different buildings. [The new building will] allow us to better serve our growing number of outpatients.”

The new building will dramatically improve the “patient experience” by giving them access to “multiple specialists” without “having to walk to various locations,” he said.

Rush University Medical Center was rebuilt in 2012 on the south side of the Eisenhower Expressway. The new hospital was preceded by new orthopedic and cancer centers.

Last year, Rush got the go-ahead to build a new academic village on the north side of the expressway on the old Malcolm X College site it shares with a Chicago Blackhawks training facility.

Now, the Rush construction boom is adding a new chapter with a new outpatient center located directly east of the hospital tower at Ashland and Harrison.

On Feb. 27, the city’s Department of Buildings issued 13 demolition permits authorizing Rush to tear down hospital-owned buildings in the 1400, 1500 and 1600 blocks of West Harrison Street.

For 35 years, the northeast corner of Ashland and Harrison has been home to Center Court Gardens, a 14-building, 265 apartment complex used for student housing that is now mostly empty.

Thirteen of those buildings will now be torn down to make way for the new outpatient center and parking. The building furthest to the east will be used by the construction management team.

Roughly 288 of Rush’s 2,500 students were living in the complex targeted for demolition.

Over the last year, Rush University has helped Center Court Gardens residents find alternative housing. The university has also secured a block of apartments at the Tailor Lofts Student Apartments, 315 S. Peoria, one mile east of the Rush campus.

Pontarelli refused to put a price tag or timetable on the new outpatient facility, pending the filing of a formal “Certificate of Need” with the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Planning Review Board. Nor would he say how far along the hospital is when it comes to fundraising for the project.

In November, 2015, Rush talked about building a nine-story, 620,000-square foot outpatient center at Harrison and Ashland and completing construction by 2020.

At that time, the cost of the new Rush Center for Advanced Health Care with space to accommodate 40 percent growth in outpatient services was pegged at $500 million.

“The building will be funded through a combination of revenue from operations, debt financing and philanthropy,” Pontarelli wrote in a follow-up email.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), whose West Side ward includes the three-block stretch of West Harrison, could not be reached for comment on Rush’s plan to cash in on what has become one of the fastest-growing sectors of the health care industry.

Surgeries that once required lengthy hospital stays are now being conducted on an outpatient basis. That allows patients to cut costs and recuperate at home while freeing up hospital beds to handle the most seriously ill patients.

The decision to demolish student housing on the south side of the Eisenhower comes amid plans for new student housing on the north side of the expressway.

Last year, the Chicago Plan Commission signed off on a new $500 million hospital campus on Rush’s seven-acre share of the old Malcolm X College site at 1900 W. Van Buren; that campus will have five buildings, built over a 27-year period. It would include academic buildings with a mix of office space, community health clinics and ground-floor retail as well as a dormitory with rooms to accommodate 300 students from Rush and Malcolm X.

“When this opportunity came up as part of our master planning, it’s a perfect fit. Seven acres that can really house the next generation of what we’re trying to do academically,” Peter Butler, president of Rush University Medical Center, said on that day.

“In the last 10 years, Rush University has doubled in its enrollment to 2,500 students and health professionals. But our classrooms are 45 years old with 45-year-old technology. Today’s educational models need something much more than that. So, we really plan an academic enterprise on that side of the highway that has it all, that makes it not only current educational but provides a setting for students.”

The extended 27-year time frame raised eyebrows and prompted some Plan Commission members to demand that Rush return to the body for periodic updates.

But former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s longtime corporation counsel Mara George, an attorney representing Rush, explained why it’s such a long-term project.

“Rather than overtax our resources or over-promise to this body, we wanted a structure that was achievable and a schedule that everybody felt comfortable with and we knew would be accomplished,” Georges said.

The fact that the new academic village will be on the north side of the expressway while the burgeoning hospital campus is located on the south side prompted Plan Commission member Linda Searl to question how students and doctors will travel in between.

“You almost need a pedestrian bridge to do this. Hopefully, that will be part of the future plan,” Searl said.

Together, the Blackhawks and Rush ending up paying $26.7 million for the 11-acre Malcolm X site. That matched the value placed on the 486,526 square feet of land by the city’s third-party appraiser.

But only $24.3 million of that money was paid in cash. The rest was a credit for “community benefits.”

City Hall spent $8 million to demolish the old Malcolm X and prepare the site for construction, leaving Chicago taxpayers with a net profit of $16.3 million from the deal.

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