Make no little plans. Daniel Burnham's adage might be the motto for Houston's Texas Medical Center, which recently announced an ambitious long-term development proposal for one of the nation's largest medical and education campuses.
Earlier this month, Texas Medical's 42 not-for-profit member institutions announced their agreement to coordinate about $1.5 billion in construction and infrastructure improvements over the next 15 years.
The blueprint, which would create a central research corridor on the main campus and solve an increasingly unwieldy parking problem, is Texas Medical's bid to rein in the unplanned growth that drove the center's first 50 years of expansion.
Texas Medical encompasses 20 million square feet of built space on 675 acres of land south of downtown Houston. Since Texas Medical was incorporated in 1945, members wanting to expand simply brought their individual plans to the Texas Medical board for approval.
If they required more land, they leased additional parcels from the corporation on the usual terms-$1 per year for 99 years, according to David Low, M.D., president of the University of Texas, Houston's Health Science Center.
But in recent years the booming center had started to run out of space, Low said. Member institutions spent about $2.7 billion on construction from 1985 to 1999, according to Texas Medical.
"The center's success has led to a greater need to plan with your neighbor for where the next pieces of the puzzle will go," said Peter Butler, president and chief executive officer of Methodist Health Care System, also on the campus.
After some prompting by members, the center hired Chicago design firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill early this year to conduct a comprehensive assessment of members' plans for expansion. The firm found members would need 10 million new square feet of space by 2015, as well as centralized infrastructure planning. Members had never paid much attention to transportation or parking needs in their individual plans, but the center had grown to the size of a respectable downtown without the benefit of urban planners.
"They know how to build healthcare buildings, but what they didn't know how to do was to make sure this city functioned," said Skidmore partner Philip Enquist, who led the planning of the massive project.
"It's one of the most complicated healthcare master plans we've ever been involved with," he said. Skidmore received about $500,000 for the study.
"The thing that amazed a lot of people is that we did have the space to grow," said Bob Stott, vice president of planning and development at Texas Medical.
Making that space, however, will require negotiating land swaps and other deals, some of which may prove difficult. TMC officials would not say which deals might pose problems.
At least one transaction has already been completed. To create the central research corridor, the Health Science Center has agreed to sell its Mental Science Institute building to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center for $15 million. The teardown will make room for what will eventually be a $2 billion complex for the three biggest research institutions on campus-Baylor College of Medicine, the Health Science Center and M.D. Anderson.
The Mental Science Institute will be relocated to the outskirts of the center, near Harris County Psychiatric Center.
The new research corridor, which will be built over an existing parking lot and will eventually require the relocation of the Health Science Center's dental branch, allows Texas Medical to capitalize on what it does best.
"The thing that really distinguishes us is that we do so much cutting-edge research. That research is what makes the Texas Medical Center so good," Low said.
The huge three-institute center will be built in three phases, but each institution will adhere to a common plan that will allow the floors to be connected.
Ralph Feigin, M.D., president and CEO of Baylor College of Medicine, said the building would facilitate longtime collaboration among scientists by allowing them to work side by side.
Projects under way on the Texas Medical campus include the parking expansion, paid for with $80 million in bonds; a Texas Children's Hospital expansion, paid for with $345 million to be raised through a combination of donations and bonds; two Baylor College of Medicine projects set to be done by 2000, paid for with $106 million in bonds, capital reserves and donations; and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center projects to cost $186 million.
An additional $500 million to $600 million of construction will get under way in the next few years, according to Richard Wainerdi, Texas Medical's president and CEO.