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The cost of getting sick

click to enlarge The architects rendering of the $142 million Memorial - Hospital North facility, which is currently under - construction.
  • The architects rendering of the $142 million Memorial Hospital North facility, which is currently under construction.

If I were in charge of building a hospital, the one thing I'd wish for would be this: The design of the building must reflect the three dimensions of space plus the experience of space over time and through the senses.

Oddly enough, that's exactly the same wish of the international architectural firm Jonathan Bailey Associates, designer of the now-under-construction Memorial Hospital North in the Briargate area of our village.

Personal footnote: If I had three wishes, the first would definitely be for all that "dimensions of space plus the experience of space over time" horseshi... uh, I mean architectural concept. The other wishes would be for a really cold freezer to store the bedpans and for a video camera in each room to record the look on the patients' faces when they squat down.

But that's just me.

Relieving stress

Anyway, Memorial Hospital North, which is scheduled to open in 2007, will be a terrific place. The main facility, according to Jonathan Bailey Associates, will "stimulate the patient's senses to relieve anxiety, helping them become comfortable and confident in a stressful situation."

This design will not eliminate the other popular method of stimulating the patient's senses, which involves your surgeon standing over you in the operating room, laughing uncontrollably and saying, "This would probably go a lot smoother if I wasn't stoned."

The hospital will be five stories high and will consist of three "cylindrical" buildings attached to a fourth building, which will be square. Or, as my friends and I like to say when we're drinking and bowling, the fourth building will reflect a non-cylindrical dimension of time and space. Then Dennis usually throws a ball down the wrong lane and vomits.

The cost of this new city-owned hospital: $142 million.

(Waiting two hours past your appointment time because your doctor is "responding to an emergency" and then watching him pull into the parking lot and change out of his golf shoes? Priceless.)

Seriously, the $142 million price tag includes $18 million used earlier this year to purchase the 82-acre site in Briargate and two separate buildings that will house doctors' offices. Additional facilities for the site are planned.

Much more than a hospital

The good news is that taxpayers will absorb none of the cost. As a city-owned enterprise fund, Memorial Hospital pays its own way. (The city-owned Utilities operates the same way, generating its own revenue by selling things such as water. In another startling similarity between the Utilities and Memorial Hospital, each year Utilities Director Phil Tollefson undergoes a very unpleasant proctology exam -- conducted by Broadmoor President Steve Bartolin whenever he needs more water for his golf courses. )

The bad news, however, comes if you get sick or injured and end up at Memorial Hospital North. Because somewhere on your bill, probably as part of the $6 aspirin or the $9 wooden tongue depressor or the $36 ice pack, there is going to be a charge for the "three dimensions of space plus the experience of space over time."

Trust me on that.

Normal construction costs hover around $150 per square foot. The Pikes Peak Library District is building a new library in Fountain and has whittled the cost down to about $102 per square foot.

At $124 million ($142 million minus the $18 million land cost) construction of the 250,000 square feet of Memorial Hospital North comes to about $568 per square foot.

Of course, for that kind money we're getting much more than a hospital. I spoke this week with Tom Dwyer, a founding partner of Jonathan Bailey Associates, and here's part of what he had to say: "The Memorial Hospital North building itself is a sustainable building. By that I mean it has a lot of functions that can be used over time in a way that allows it to be a future building.

"Also, the design we've come up with is integrated, so the patients will have a very easy way-finding scenario when they come through the front door."

I stopped him at that point because, well, I didn't know what he meant. I asked him to repeat it.

"They will have a very easy way-finding scenario," he said again. "There will be a signage system integrated within the building so people will flow to the places they need to flow to."

You know. A signage system. "Cardiology," for example. With an arrow.

Way-finding.

Short straight lines

And while any general contractor will tell you that it costs more to build round structures than it costs to build more traditional straight ones double or even triple the cost -- Jonathan Bailey Associates says this is not true. From architect Dwyer: "It is not more expensive. The curves are not really curves. In reality, a curve is nothing more than short straight lines."

All of which should be of great interest to Memorial Hospital's current nurses, who have to fight and beg and scratch for meager raises every year. The nurses will probably think about the $142 million in short straight lines that only appear to be curves every day when they're forced to park 10 blocks from the downtown Memorial Hospital.

And, even in rain and snow, way-find themselves to work.

-- richt@csindy.com

  • The cost of getting sick

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