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UB prepares to debut its $375 million showpiece of a medical school

Inside a new University at Buffalo building on Main Street is a mammoth glass atrium capped by seven skylights and filled with temporary scaffolding holding tradesmen working from dawn to dusk five days a week, and sometimes Saturdays.

The workers are adding the interior details of the $375 million Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Main and Allen streets.

The eight-floor building, now 75 percent complete, will open later this year to house an expanding UB medical school.

The school has been steadily adding faculty since it began construction of the downtown building and plans to add 80 new faculty members by 2020 as it gears up to meet the needs of more students.

Workers put the finishing touches on the ceiling of the atrium of the new UB Medical School. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

The building will have more educational space than the school's current home on UB's South Campus, as well as advance simulation centers for patient care and updated laboratories.

But its design and location – with its terra cotta exterior, glass atrium and Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus address – is part of a wider university strategy for attracting new doctors to the medical school.

"The atrium was always to be the showcase," said Jennifer A. Kuhn, UB project manager. "The architect always called it the piano nobile."

An average of 380 workers on the site each day are tasked with transforming the 628,000-square-foot building from the ground level to the top of the eighth floor.

"We're in the process of putting the lipstick on, and the finishing touches," said William J. Mahoney, vice president of LPCiminelli, which is overseeing construction.

Atrium features glass panels

Mahoney and UB officials led a walk-through of the building last week to give a peek of progress that has been made and what work remains.

The building – which in terms of square footage is the equivalent of 14.6 acres – has about $30 million worth of work to go, Mahoney said.

It is the largest construction project in UB's history. It is also, UB says, the largest building dedicated to medical education presently under construction in the United States. More than 3,000 trades workers have left their touch on the complex in the three years it has been under construction.

Outside, workers have been placing terra cotta panels on the building like pieces of a puzzle fitting into place. By late summer, 27,646 of the panels will form a high-performance "skin" of the new building.

Some of the exterior terra cotta as construction starts to take shape at the new UB medical school downtown. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Inside, walls are up and the shells of offices are in place. Mechanical and electrical systems are being turned on. Work on medical labs, counters, file drawers, built-in cabinets, flooring, ceiling tiles and light fixtures is under way on many floors, as well as student classrooms and lecture halls.

The building's seven-story atrium is also underway. It will feature 650 ribbon-glass panels made up of 19,000 square feet of glass along the perimeter, as well as a glass rainscreen façade.

Five floors of temporary scaffolding provide work crews access to the perimeter of the atrium to complete finishing work of the building. An interior band of terra cotta panels – mirroring the ones on the outside of the building – will rim the inside of each floor.

Gradually, the top scaffolding level will be removed as each level is completed. "It's kind of like a train, one car after another, until the final product is complete," Mahoney said.

Workers on scaffolding put the finishing touches on the ceiling of the atrium inside UB's new Medical School in downtown Buffalo. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Glass is a big deal, particularly with an atrium that will shed natural light into the center of the building and a small bistro planned for students and faculty on the second floor.

The atrium area, along with lounges, is intended to be a collaborative space for students to meet students and their professors.

"The idea is to create opportunities for people to get together and share ideas," said Gail E. Ettaro, LPCiminelli's senior marketing director.

Building aimed at evolving mission

The building, UB officials hope, will not just provide a new downtown home for a bigger medical school, but will meet new needs as its mission evolves and the school grows.

“The new school offers a 178 percent increase in educational space for our medical students and most of those increases occur in the small classroom area,” Michael E. Cain, vice president for health sciences and medical school dean, told faculty during a recent address, according to a UB summary. “This is by design as we reshape the vision of our medical curriculum.”

The medical school had 688 faculty members during the 2011-12 school year, when the new building was still in the planning stages. That number grew to 778 last school year and is expected to be 860 by 2020.

By fall, the first staff members are slated to move into the new building. Classes will start there in January.

A view of the west side from the seventh floor at the new UB medical school. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Lab spaces will occupy much of the third, fourth and fifth floors. The sixth floor will contain administrative offices and a clinical competency center for simulated patient work. Administrative offices, along with gross anatomy teaching space, will make up the seventh floor. The eighth floor consists of mechanical systems. The second level will mostly contain classrooms, two large lecture halls, a small bistro and student and faculty lounges.

While most of the medical school will not be accessible to the general public, the building houses the Metro Rail Allen Medical Station and will be part of a sky-bridge connector system to adjacent hospitals and research facilities.

"It's a state-of-the-art medical facility that provides hands-on experiences," Mahoney said.

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