Hospital expansion encroaches on real estate

By Daniel Gilbert

Faculty and staff living in apartments on the 5700 block of South Drexel Avenue received notices that they must vacate their residences by this summer. The apartments, owned by University of Chicago Real Estate, will be razed to accommodate an expansion of the University hospital—including a new pediatric emergency room and a surgical pavilion.

The hospital’s main expansion project is a 500,000 square foot surgical pavilion. The pavilion, estimated to cost between $300 million and $350 million, would be more than twice as expensive as the soon-to-be completed Comer Children’s Hospital, slated to open by December 2004.

A 10-story structure, the pavilion would enable the hospital to expand its intensive care unit. It would also create space for large radiology equipment, which barely fits into the current operating rooms, which were built in the 1970s.

The expansion represents part of the hospital’s strategy to upgrade facilities in order to attract patients from the Midwest and beyond.

The University hospital board recently approved the plan for the new surgical center, scheduled to begin in 2008. It is still awaiting endorsement by the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board and final approval from the University. If approved, work on the new facilities would not be finished until 2010 at the earliest.

University Hospital spokesman John Eastman said plans to create a new surgical tower were “very preliminary,” emphasizing that many view the addition as necessary for the future of the hospital.

Construction of the pediatric emergency room is slated to begin very soon, according to Eastman, who declined to specify a timetable for its completion. It will be connected to the surgical tower if the latter plan comes to fruition.

According to Ilene Jo Reizner, director of University Real Estate, the expansion of the University hospital has been a topic of neighborhood discussion for a long time. “We do our best to inform prospective tenants of possible additions to the hospital, but we don’t give people a notice to vacate until the University tells us it is absolutely necessary,” Reizner said.

The dates for vacancy vary from apartment to apartment, with deadlines ranging from the end of June to the end of August. Since the hospital does not need all of the land right away, University of Chicago Real Estate has given some tenants more time to relocate.

Current tenants were given at least 90 days of advance notification that they would have to leave their apartments. University Real Estate will help faculty and staff find new apartments if they are moving to another residence in Hyde Park. Additionally, faculty and staff are given an allowance to help defray the costs and inconveniences associated with moving. The allowance is a set amount, dependent on how many bedrooms are in a given apartment.

While at least seven apartments in the 5700 block of South Drexel Avenue will be leveled in anticipation of the hospital’s expansion, the fate of the Ronald McDonald House, located on the same block, is not clear. It provides discounted housing for the families of pediatric patients.

The Comer Children’s Hospital, on Maryland Avenue between 57th Street and 58th Street, originally planned to include walkways to the Ronald McDonald House. Eastman said that talks are in progress about the possibility of relocating the house.

With another block of apartments to be leveled this summer, nearby tenants have expressed concern about the future of their apartments. John McGarry, a manager for local real estate mogul K&G, said that the company has no plans to destroy any of its apartments in the area. He added that no representative from the University approached K&G with an offer to purchase its apartment buildings.