UAMS Unveils $130 Million Cancer Institute Expansion

On July 30, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences will officially unveil its latest jewel in its massive campus overhaul project: a $130 million, 12-floor expansion of the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.

The 330,000-SF addition marks the second-largest completed construction job at UAMS' medical campus that includes the centerpiece of the facelift, a 10-floor, $200 million hospital, which opened last year. Since 2004, UAMS has spent $400 million on construction projects on its campus.

The Cancer Institute expansion connects to the existing 11-story, approximately 200,000-SF Cancer Institute building, which didn't have the space to treat more cancer patients or to conduct research, said Dr. Peter Emanuel, the executive director of the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute. The Cancer Institute was renamed in 2007 for the late lieutenant governor. Rockefeller died in 2006 from a rare bone marrow disease. It had been known as the Arkansas Cancer Research Center.

"They actually ran out of room in 2004," Emanuel said recently as he gave Arkansas Business an exclusive look at the new building, which features a flood of natural light.

If the expansion hadn't been undertaken, Emanuel said, "things would have slowly dwindled. ... We would have lost faculty because they would have been recruited away to places that are building new buildings like this. And we had less and less capacity to take care of the new cancer patients because we didn't have the space."

For UAMS' fiscal year that ended June 30, 2009, the latest figures available, the Cancer Institute saw 134,000 patients. In fiscal 2007, there were 120,000 patient visits and 75,000 in 2000.

The new building will be used as a recruiting tool, and Emanuel expects to add about a dozen researchers during the next 18 months, which will mean about 80 new jobs with the support staff that the scientists need.

Emanuel said he hoped the Cancer Institute becomes a world leader in the treatment of six to eight cancers.

"Right now we're world-class in multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer," he said. Patients from all over the world come to UAMS for treatment of that cancer.

The Cancer Institute also is renowned for the treatment of breast cancer, Emanuel said. And the Cancer Institute recently assembled a team to study lung cancer, which claims the lives of about 2,000 Arkansans annually, making it the biggest cancer killer in the state. Lung cancer kills more Arkansans than breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer and ovarian cancer combined, he said.

"So we need to address that," Emanuel said.

Other cancers that will be targeted include leukemia and lymphoma, colon and prostate cancer.

"We'll never catch up to [the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center]; they're gigantic," Emanuel said. "But we can develop an expertise in a half dozen or so cancers and that's sort of the goal."


Expansion Plans

The Walker Tower, which houses the Cancer Institute, had been filling up since it opened with four floors in 1989. The space was split between research and patient care.

"The Walker Tower was designed to intermingle outpatient clinical floors with research floors," Emanuel said. "The thought being that if the scientists and the doctors are both in the same building, they'll see each other more often and bounce ideas off of each other."

Another seven floors were added to the Walker Tower in 1994. And 10 years later, the building was full, Emanuel said.

Emanuel said the cramped, outdated building had resulted in some scientists not coming to the Cancer Institute.

Talks about expanding the Walker Tower started in 2005. The construction plans called for expanding the Walker Tower by six or eight floors placed at the back of the building and then adding existing floors somewhere down the road, Emanuel said.

Any construction at the site, though, is a logistical nightmare, said James Scroggins, facilities planner in the construction management campus operations division for UAMS. The footprint for the expansion had to be shoehorned in between existing UAMS structures and then connected to Walker Tower, making it one large building. 

"We're right in the middle of campus," Scroggins said. Even delivering the steel to campus posed a problem because there was no place to store it.

CDI Contractors LLC of Little Rock was the general contractor on the project. Most of the construction work was done on nights and weekends to avoid disturbing the patients, Scroggins said.

Building half the structure now and then returning a few years to add more floors would have been a much harder construction project, he said.

"So we argued three years ago that we wanted to go ahead and build the entire 12-story shell to start with, knowing that we wouldn't complete it," Emanuel said.

To help pay for the building, in 2007 the Arkansas Legislature approved creating a $36 million fund to provide a dollar-for-dollar match of private donations for the expansion project.

Emanuel said about $40 million in private donations was raised and that money was used to collect the $36 million from the state of Arkansas.

Other money for the project, which includes the renovation of the Walker Tower, came from federal grants and money from $35 million worth of bonds that will be paid for with the state's portion from the 1998 settlement with the tobacco industry.

In January, the National Institutes of Health awarded a $10.5 million grant to the Cancer Institute for the completion of two research lab floors, which are expected to be completed in 2011.

It's unclear how much more it will cost to operate the expanded Cancer Institute, because the UAMS budget doesn't separate it, said UAMS spokeswoman Andrea Peel. But it will be paid for with donations, state and federal funds and grants, she said.

For the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2009, UAMS had a net loss of $43.1 million, although the CFO, Melony Goodhand, had told Arkansas Business that using earmarked capital gifts, the institution had a "positive bottom line" of $4 million.

In February, Dr. Daniel Rahn, the UAMS chancellor, hired a consulting firm to help improve the campus' hospital unit. Navigant Consulting Inc. of Chicago came back with a recent report that said it could add more than $40 million to the hospital's bottom line.

The consultant's recommendation to save money could take place during the next 12 to 18 months.


Design Plans

The Cancer Institute called on the architecture firms Cromwell Architects Engineers Inc. of Little Rock and FKP Architects of Houston to create plans for the project.

Hrand DuValian, the architect for Cromwell, said he tried to design a building that reduces the patient's stress and fear.

When the building opens to the public on Aug. 2, patients can be dropped off in a circular driveway and then enter a large reception area that features wood-paneled walls and chandeliers, giving it the feel of a four-star hotel.

Off to the side of the open-air registration area, a grand piano will sit, and music will echo up the side of the slate-exterior elevator. The elevator doubles as the focal point of the structure and can be seen from the waiting area and atrium of each floor.

"So anytime you're unescorted you can find your way in and out of the building," DuValian said.

The building's exterior is glass, attracting as much natural light into the building as possible. The coating of the glass reflects heat and gives the exterior the appearance of a mirror.

The building also features stairways between the windows and elevators to entice employees, DuValian said.

"That helps promote a healthy lifestyle and also helps to reduce the energy that it takes to run a building," he said.

The building also was designed to promote conversations between cancer doctors and researchers by having a floor of research next to a floor for patients.

For researchers, the laboratories have open research space to encourage scientists to interact, Emanuel said.

"In the Walker Tower, you have individual labs, and this is the new age," he said, pointing to several research tables in an open lab. "All new research labs and all U.S. medical campuses are going to be designed this way now."

When the building opens, three full floors and parts of two other floors will be in use.

By next summer, two more research floors will operational. Six floors will remain shell space until money becomes available to finish them out. Emanuel said he didn't know when the building would be completely finished.

"We don't have a set time frame," he said. "It's just when funds become available. ... Right now it's hard to raise funds in this economy."