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Rail station to be Medical Campus gateway

The University at Buffalo’s long-held vision for a downtown medical school is about to materialize in bricks and mortar – along with steel rail and subway trains.

A conceptual design for the planned, seven-story UB Medical School at Allen and Main streets has been presented at various community meetings in recent days, as officials prepare to break ground in September for a $375 million facility to anchor the west end of the sprawling Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

But UB’s new centerpiece will also assume a role assigned to few – if any – medical schools around the world: It will incorporate Metro Rail’s current Allen/Medical Campus Station onto its ground floor, providing a crucial role for the Buffalo subway as a gateway to the new Medical Campus.

It’s all part of a grand plan the university has envisioned for years as its architects and Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority engineers put the final touches on designing a facility serving about 2,000 medical students, staff and faculty every day – in addition to thousands of commuters.

“Having a transit station as a means for people getting around is an integral part of our planning,” said Laura E. Hubbard, UB’s vice president for finance and administration.

Indeed, the partial plans UB has presented depict a transit facility similar to those of bigger cities in which stations are often incorporated into larger buildings. With Metro Rail envisioned as a key component of moving not only UB students but thousands of other Medical Campus employees every day, planners said it became apparent that transit would prove an essential part of the design – especially because few parking spaces will be available.

Now UB and the NFTA are preparing for the first major alteration of any station since the Metro Rail system was launched almost three decades ago. The challenge includes the unique assignment of blending transit and educational needs into one building.

And it all becomes necessary by the concept of a multifaceted medical campus on the north edge of downtown.

“It’s so valuable to have academia and health care [together] on the Medical Campus,” said Robert G. Shibley, dean of UB’s School of Architecture and Planning. “And we will have better health care, research and education all by virtue of this co-location.”

Thomas George, the NFTA’s director of surface transportation, highlighted the conceptual plans to the board of commissioners last week. He pointed out an open walkway through the building providing pedestrian access, while newly placed entrances to the station are also envisioned.

And, in a first for Metro Rail, retail is planned for the transit station.

“We’re talking about ‘grab and go,’ newspapers and sundries,” George said, adding that staff will issue a request for proposals for the retail component when work is completed in August 2016.

Shibley stressed that the design unveiled for the NFTA and for a recent Allentown neighborhood information meeting is not yet finalized. But final plans and drawings are slated to be introduced to the community April 9, he said.

Still, he feels planners have settled on a “conceptual” design that complements existing neighborhood buildings as well as new construction planned for the Medical Campus.

“It’s a big building and big site,” he said.

In the meantime, planners face the challenge of maintaining Metro Rail operations in the midst of a major construction job.

“UB is in the final process of determining how to protect the station while essentially tearing off the roof and walls,” George said.

“We’re stressing to UB that we have to maintain service,” added NFTA Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel. “So that’s a consideration they have to make.”

Shibley, however, said officials of the HOK architectural firm commissioned to design the project seemed almost amused when asked about the challenge of building over a working subway station.

“They sort of chuckled and said: ‘You know, we do build in New York City,’ ” Shibley said, adding that the firm has extensive experience erecting buildings all over Manhattan.