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New UB medical school is gateway to hospitals and neighborhoods

When the University at Buffalo’s new Medical School opens in downtown Buffalo in 2016, it will serve as both an entrance into the growing Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and a bridge to the nearby community.

While the $375 million seven-story building will welcome patients and visitors to the Medical Campus, the new facility also is designed to encourage its 2,000 faculty, staff and students to filter into the surrounding neighborhoods to eat, shop and live.

“I think it becomes the glue that connects everything together,” Dr. Michael E. Cain, the dean of the Medical School and UB’s vice president of health sciences, said in an interview after Wednesday’s unveiling of the design for UB’s new School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

The complex – the size of three Walmart supercenters – will allow UB to accept more students and add faculty, and it brings the school closer to the hospitals downtown, its home for the first 100 years of its existence.

The building will encourage greater use of public transit – it contains a Metro Rail station – and planners sought to create a structure that will be a memorable addition to Buffalo’s cityscape.

“If you look at the open design, if you look at the air coming in and the kind of interactive space it provides, it’s tremendous. It’s a 21st century education and research building,” UB President Satish K. Tripathi said.

UB plans to break ground this fall on the building at the corner of Main and High streets, with construction expected to take about three years.

The Medical School is a key piece of the development that is radically transforming the Medical Campus and the surrounding community, including the Gates Vascular Institute, UB’s Clinical and Translational Research Center and the John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital.

“You have a building that is architecturally announcing the Medical Campus, Allentown and downtown with one physical gesture,” said Robert G. Shibley, dean of UB’s School of Architecture and Planning. “It’s a gateway building.”

Medical students, professors and staff are moving downtown from the UB South Campus, where the school has been located since 1953.

Most medical schools are directly tied to a hospital, and the fact that UB’s school is not has forced medical students and faculty here to split up among a number of buildings and hospitals.

The pending move to the Medical Campus will build a better link among the Medical School and Buffalo General Medical Center, Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Children’s Hospital, which also is moving downtown.

“We will have almost everybody together again,” Cain said.

Tripathi hopes that students based at the new building will have a better experience in medical school, which will prompt more of them to stay at area hospitals to do their required residencies and lead more of them to choose to stay here to practice medicine.

The university also plans to expand the Medical School, which now has about 140 students in each of its four classes and about 720 full-time faculty, once it moves into its larger home.

UB will boost the size of each class to 180 students by 2020 and hire about 130 additional faculty over the next few years, Cain said.

The new Medical School will encompass 550,000 square feet. As a comparison, the BlueCross BlueShield building on West Genesee Street is 469,000 square feet, and the Larkin at Exchange building measures 600,000 square feet.

UB last year invited architectural firms to compete for the right to design the new Medical School. After the firms were pared to four and their concepts were displayed for public comment, a panel last May selected the international firm HOK – Helmuth, Obata & Kassabaum – to design the new building.

The seven-story building is shaped like two L’s joined by a six-story atrium, which is naturally illuminated by skylights and glass walls along Washington Street and the terminus of Allen Street.

The design is simple and elegant, and the building is meant to be environmentally friendly and open to the community, said Kenneth Drucker, senior principal and director of design for HOK, who attended the unveiling on the Medical Campus with Jim Berge, principal in charge of the Medical School project and HOK’s director of science and technology.

The first two floors of the building will be more accessible to the public, housing educational and community rooms for the Medical School’s outreach programs and public health initiatives, UB said.

A second-floor bridge will provide “coatless” access to the new Children’s Hospital and the Conventus medical office building under construction along High Street.

Floors three through five will feature research facilities and state-of-the-art labs. The sixth floor will include a simulation center, where medical students can perform surgeries in a simulated operating room.

The seventh floor will house facilities for gross anatomy, and the entire building has open spaces where students and faculty can work together.

“This kind of interaction provides this kind of multidisciplinary approach to problem-solving,” Tripathi said.

The new Medical School has a café but not a full-service cafeteria, because designers want students and staff to leave the building and walk to nearby restaurants.

The Medical School building is meant to serve as a catalyst for private-sector development in the area, Shibley said, and inspire the same sense of local architectural pride as the finest buildings of the 20th century.

A new Allen/Medical Campus Metro Rail station will be integrated into the building.

The existing station will continue to operate during the construction of the Medical School.

There isn’t nearly enough parking available near the Medical School to accommodate everyone who will use the building, so planners envision people buying homes near the medical campus or commuting by bike, bus or subway.

“All of that mix will take us to a new place,” Shibley said. “There’s a revolution coming in transportation.”

The work on the Metro station is included in the $375 million cost for the Medical School.

Money for the project will come from several sources, Tripathi said, including a $210 million bond taken out by the state, which UB must pay back, and $50 million that the university expects to raise from donors.

News Staff Reporter Jay Rey contributed to this report. email: