IUPUI mulling options for old Wishard Hospital site

November 7, 2009

Now that Wishard Health Services is certain to vacate its hospital complex at West 10th Street and University Boulevard, administrators at IUPUI have to decide what to do with it.

That’s because Wishard officials signed a land-swap agreement Nov. 4 that gives them a piece of land owned by IUPUI, on which they will build a new hospital, while giving the current Wishard property to IUPUI.

Wishard got the green light to build a $754 million hospital when Marion County voters agreed Nov. 3 to provide public backing for bonds Wishard will sell to finance the new facility.

Wishard doesn’t plan to move out of its current facility until December 2013. But Indiana University administrators, who manage the IUPUI campus, know they need to start evaluating their options now.

“It’s kind of a joke in my office: ‘You know, at some point, we need to think about what to do with the Wishard site,’” said Tom Morrison, vice president of capital projects for all IU campuses.

The most obvious use for the old Wishard site is an expansion of the Indiana University School of Medicine, particularly for medical research space, IU administrators said.

The medical school campus—including classroom and laboratory buildings, as well as IU Hospital—lies due south of Wishard’s current location.

The medical school has been pushing in recent years to expand its work in life sciences, repeatedly asking the Indiana General Assembly for extra funds to do so. That would also likely require more space.

“Laboratory space is always in short supply,” Morrison said from his Bloomington office. But building more space also has helped medical school researchers be more productive—that is, win more grants that bring in money to the school. He added, “I don’t think we’ve ever been sorry we built laboratory space.”

IU officials and their architects will evaluate the 17 aging buildings that make up the Wishard campus, which have an average age of more than 60 years, before deciding which to keep and which to tear down, Morrison said.

But campus administrators in Indianapolis clearly want the Wishard buildings to come down.

Dr. Craig Brater, dean of the IU medical school, said in an e-mail that the existing buildings need to be torn down and replaced if they are going to be used for medical research.

Roger Schmenner, chief of staff to IUPUI Chancellor Charles Bantz, also said the school would look to demolish the buildings soon after Wishard leaves them. Wishard said it spent $25 million a year to maintain its downtown hospital—a cost IUPUI has no desire to shoulder.

“Just keeping those buildings alive is expensive,” Schmenner said. “You want to kill them quickly.”

Having to find a new use for an old facility like Wishard is not unheard of on university campuses, said Mary Jukuri, senior campus planner at JJR, a landscape architecture and planning firm in Ann Arbor, Mich. She said it represents a great opportunity for IUPUI.

“The medical campus has been somewhat landlocked,” she said. “This gives IUPUI some breathing room.”

JJR and its sister company, Detroit-based SmithGroup, have been working with IUPUI and Clarian Health, the medical school’s hospital partner, to coordinate master planning of their respective campuses.

But the Wishard site was not part of the IUPUI master plan approved in February by the IU trustees. The site will now need to be added in to that 20-year vision, Schmenner said.

The master plan calls for making the IUPUI campus, which is centered a couple of blocks south of Wishard, denser than it already is. Because of that principle, Schmenner said, it is unlikely that SmithGroup and JJR would argue for using the Wishard site for IUPUI’s academic activities.

IUPUI leaders want their campus to feel more urban, with taller buildings, more parks and courtyards, and more people hanging out.

Its master plan calls for tripling the number of students who live on campus to 3,500, or 1/10th of IUPUI’s projected student body, as part of adding 2.2 million square feet of building space. IUPUI also wants to erect 120,000 square feet of retail and commercial office space and construct parking garages with 4,000 extra spaces.

More immediately, however, IUPUI officials face a complicated task of finding new places for personnel and parking spaces as they are gradually displaced by the hospital construction work.

Wishard officials said they’ll start demolition work this month, sign their first construction firm by year’s end, and start construction in March. Wishard will first take down the old Larue D. Carter mental hospital and the former home of the State Board of Health.

As workers demolish those buildings, their staging areas will rob IUPUI of more than 500 parking spaces. That will exacerbate the already nightmarish parking crunch on the school’s campus.

Later, Wishard also will need to demolish IUPUI’s Union Building, across a lawn west of Riley hospital. The Union Building currently houses IUPUI’s purchasing, human resources, military science, university architects and graduate studies departments.

Most of the roughly 250 IUPUI employees working in that building will shift their offices temporarily to Lockefield Village, a building Wishard operated as a nursing home until earlier this year. However, that change will not occur for more than a year.

Wishard will gradually vacate some of its administrative buildings and, last, its patient care areas. IUPUI and Wishard officials already have formed a task force to work through the transition.

“This is going to be an interesting management challenge for us on working to make sure all of this goes smoothly,” Schmenner said.•


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