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UTMB is in the midst of a $1.2B revitalization - The Galveston County Daily News : Ike

April 24, 2014

UTMB is in the midst of a $1.2B revitalization

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Posted: Thursday, September 12, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 10:57 am, Thu Sep 12, 2013.

Five years ago, the University of Texas Medical Branch was under water — anywhere from 6 inches to 6 feet.

All kinds of systems and the lower floors of buildings were damaged. About 1.5 million square feet of space on the campus had to be "taken offline" after Hurricane Ike in 2008, said Mike Shriner, the university's vice president of business operations and facilities.

While students, patients and employees returned with time, the repair and building work continues at Texas' oldest medical university.

"We spent pretty much the first six months doing what I would call response," Shriner said.

The university had to get its people and operations into temporary facilities and then begin the long work of fixing what needed to be fixed.

It would take a year for the state to allocate funds for the university's recovery, Shriner said. And then there was the grind of working with private insurance, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

But early on it was evident that just rebuilding was not going to be enough, Shriner said.

Dr. David Callender, medical branch president, made it clear that the university would have to do more with all the resources it was marshaling, Shriner said.

"We need to take advantage of that and say now: 'How do we move forward into the things we know we need to do over the next five to 10 years?'" he said.

The campus now is in the midst of a $1.2 billion revitalization with about 200 construction projects, according to the university. Repairs to existing buildings damaged during the storm are about 90 percent done, Shriner said. But construction on new buildings will continue for the next few years.

About $947 million is for Hurricane Ike recovery projects, about 57 percent of that coming from FEMA, Shriner said. The rest is made up from about $150 million in state appropriations, another $60 million to $70 million from private insurance and about $185 million from the university's own coffers, he said.

But rather than just rebuild and fix what had been there before, Shriner said the university leadership asked the architects and engineers in charge of construction to identify what was worth restoring and what, perhaps, needed to be repurposed.

Several projects came from the storm, but one of the larger ones is the $127.5 million Clinical Services Wing, a seven-floor building that will house areas such as the kitchen, pharmacy and other critical areas, Shriner said. The wing is scheduled to open in 2015.

The university also is using recovery funds to put in a new heating and cooling system, which will replace a less-efficient underground steam pipe system and also will include a new utility plant on the east end of the campus to go along with a plant on the west end.

As an example of how some buildings will be repurposed, Shriner pointed to the building that was the Children's Hospital before the storm; it was turned into a research building.

"We took the pediatric group and consolidated them into the main hospital," he said.

That allowed the building to be used for education and research, he said.

The Ashbel Smith Building, known as Old Red, also is being put to new use. The iconic building housed the gross anatomy classes before the storm. Now those labs have been moved to a new building with more space, Shriner said.

Old Red's first floor, where old walls were peeled back to reveal brick walls and arches, will be used as student study spaces, he said.

"It's a great example of how you might use a ground floor for a noncritical function but something that is still a good asset for us," Shriner said.

Most of what is going into the first floors in university buildings is not critical. New rules state that any critical functions be at least 20 feet above sea level, Shriner said.

That rule also is being worked into the non-Ike related projects. The administration already had identified needed building projects before Ike hit in 2008, Shriner said. So even while a massive rebuilding project was underway, the university forged ahead with projects, such as the building of the new Jennie Sealy Hospital.

It's a $438 million project that will provide new operating rooms, Intensive Care Unit and medical surgical beds, Shriner said. Meanwhile, the first phase of a modernization of the John Sealy Hospital, a $36 million project, is nearly complete, he said.

And the university also has moved ahead with branching out to different parts of the county with its Victory Lakes location in League City, Shriner said.

Where once the campus was under a flood of seawater, the university is now awash in work crews. Shriner said a crew of 1,000 workers came in after the storm just to clean the campus and get it ready for contractors. Now there are about 500 or more contractors on campus every day, busy at work, Shriner said.

Even while so much work is going on, the university has forged ahead with its main functions. The student body has grown from about 2,200 five years ago to more than 3,000 today, Shriner said. Patient volumes are up, and research work continues, he said.

"It's a testament to the resilience and the vision of our institution, our leadership and also the community," Shriner said. "They stood up and really supported our return and have been right there with us."

UTMB's Hurricane Ike Recovery funds:

Total: About $947 million

FEMA funds: About $542 million

State legislature appropriations: $150 million

Private insurance: About $70 million

UTMB funds: About $185 million

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