Erlanger Hospital Designs New Center

On Oct. 22, President and CEO of Erlanger Health System Kevin Spiegal announced that HKS Architects and McCarthy Building Companies Inc. had been selected to design and build the new Erlanger Women’s and Children’s Hospital in downtown Chattanooga.

A hospital planning committee is hoping the new center will allow for bigger and more private patient rooms, as well as more convenient resources for parents staying overnight. Early plans for the space include rooftop gardens and a full scale steam engine in the lobby.

“What we are really trying to do is bring this hospital and the medical care that we provide to our children to the next level," says Spiegal, who is just finishing his first year as CEO.

Erlanger is the third largest hospital in Tennessee, and though its T.C. Thompson Children’s Hospital is already designated as a “Comprehensive Regional Pediatric Center” by the Tennessee Health Board, the building and its resources themselves are outdated.

Spiegal is confident in the new federal funds and cuts implemented during his time there so far, as well as the hospital’s recent recovery from a two-year financial deficit, and hopes to take advantage of the city’s current low interest rates for the building of the new Women and Children’s space.

The first phase of the project will be the ambulatory center. The outpatient building is currently plotted across the street from Erlanger’s main building, with an inpatient hospital built on the corner of East Third and Hampton. A bridge over Third Street has been discussed to connect the two sections. Meanwhile, the existing T.C. Thompson Children’s Hospital will be converted to a stroke and neuroscience center.

Spiegal wanted the Women and Children’s Hospital to be recognized as a new Chattanooga landmark, on the same level as the Tennessee Aquarium. To achieve this, he hired Bruce Komiske, an internationally seasoned children’s hospital designer, as the project executive.

Komiske has spent this last year in preparation. Twenty-five companies were interviewed for consideration, after which the top two construction and building design agencies were invited to Chattanooga to publicly submit their proposals. The finalists were then paired into two teams, and spent a few weeks in the city doing hands on research to capture what Komiske called the “essence” of the city and reflect it in the architecture.

According to Alan Kohrt, CEO of T.C. Thompson, the hospital wanted the public to “take ownership” of the new children’s center. One of the ways public interaction influenced the final choice was the hospital’s free public reception, “Reimagining Erlanger,” during which they revealed the two contesting designs. This event was held at the Tennessee Aquarium on Oct. 7, filled all the seats, and took time for a Q&A session afterwards.

The two selected companies, HKS and McCarthy, have worked together before, and both are veterans worldwide in women and children’s hospitals. “They displayed a unique passion both for Chattanooga and Erlanger that clearly indicated this project was not just another commission,” Komiske says. HKS has been designing for children’s healthcare for the last 35 years, and McCarthy was listed by Modern Healthcare as the largest healthcare contractor in America. The builders, using the team name “Chatalyst,” will base their work from Atlanta, while much of the decisions and labor will be done in Chattanooga.

Such a development for Erlanger has also been recognized for its potential to transform the East Third Street block on a wider level. “It’s dead, other than the ambulances going in and out,” says Komiske, who sees the Children’s Hospital as an important factor in the city’s relationship with local businesses.

Alongside the Women and Children’s center, Komiske and HKS have presented ideas such as modernizing the existing medical offices on the block and bolstering them with cafes or small retail outlets. They believe the East Third Street area could be redesigned as a “wellness and innovation district,” which could include planting more trees, increasing pedestrian sidewalk space, and building more apartments, as well as a new building for the UTC College of Medicine.

The project is expected to cost 30 million dollars, much of which will be raised by a campaign Komiske describes as a grassroots movement: “we will be wanting to get everyone involved.”

The center is expected to take between five to seven years to complete.