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Ninth enclosed pedestrian skybridge in the works for Medical Campus

It may not rival the setup in Minneapolis, but the number of coatless corridors of covered pedestrian connectors to and from buildings on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus continues to grow.

Three skybridges opened in November – bringing the total number to eight – to coincide with the opening of John R. Oishei Children's Hospital on Ellicott Street.

A ninth is in the works.

The maze of enclosed pedestrian footbridges in Minneapolis connects buildings through 80 city blocks. Its network of skyways – the longest continuous system in the world – links hotels, office towers, government offices, retail stores, the Mayo Clinic Square and sports facilities.

The idea, if not the size, is the same at the Medical Campus.

Nurses, doctors and researchers now can travel about 3,875 feet through eight connectors bridging key medical facilities, hospitals and research centers on the campus without having to brave the outside elements during cold and snowy winters.

But the premise behind the elevated walkways on the Medical Campus goes even deeper than the convenience of climate-controlled comfort year-round. It also addresses the growing parking demand on the campus, with a projected workforce of about 17,000 people in the next few years. The medical school alone will bring 2,000 faculty, staff and students daily to the campus when classes begin Jan. 8.

"One of the keys is it's tied into the transit station, so whatever we can do to encourage the least impact of single occupancy vehicles, we'll do. We can't continue to build parking spaces down here," said Mark M. McGovern, director of construction and infrastructure for the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus Inc., the nonprofit organization overseeing the campus. "We don't want to lose any more green space. If we're increasing our employee base, and with more patients and visitors coming, something has to give. So people could take transit."

The Skybridge connector from Oishei Children's Hospital to the parking garage in Buffalo Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

The connector at Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute at Ellicott and Virginia streets leads through several more, winding their way to the hospitals and then Conventus medical office building at High and Main streets. The new one will be built to extend over High Street from Conventus to the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. When it opens later next year, it will add another 85 feet to the covered walkway system.

A block of 12 gray-colored panels is already in place for the new connector on the High Street side of the medical school. That walkway will be built from there and bridge to Conventus, which houses research labs and outpatient pediatric clinics tied to Children's Hospital.

The pedestrian skybridge – estimated to cost approximately $1.5 million and measure 20 feet high, 15 feet wide and 85 feet long – still must be designed and there are many issues to be ironed out, like who ultimately will own and maintain it.

"We hope to start construction late in 2018 with the hope of completing it by the end of the year," McGovern said. "There's questions about who will operate it, the provisional utilities, access control, ventilation and heating. Those are the kinds of questions we'll jump into early in the new year."

BNMC will manage the project, and oversee the skybridge design and construction. Once begun, the project should take about four to six weeks of actual construction, he said.

The connector's design will be involved since it is coming from a unique terra cotta-framed medical school with a rain screen, metal panels and a curtain wall, stretching above High Street to the second floor of Conventus.

"This is unlike a building that stands on its own," McGovern said.

The connector likely will not have 24/7 access for the general public but is designed to accommodate physicians, researchers and students going between the medical school and Conventus and beyond.  But during certain hours, people getting off the Metro Rail at Allen Medical Campus Station will be able to take the escalator to the lobby/first floor of the Jacobs School of Medicine and then another escalator to the second floor leading into Conventus.

McGovern said the latest skybridge connector was intentionally postponed until the new 854 Ellicott parking ramp still under construction behind Children's Hospital is completed. Temporary road closures and alternative traffic rerouting would have been too complicated to manage with the parking ramp and a connector skybridge at the same time, he said.

More floors of Medical Campus parking ramp to open with new hospital

"We made a conscious decision not to have that construction going on in addition to the ramp," he said. "The closure required for Oishei and the parking ramp precluded our ability to close High Street for the connector. High Street is very busy and without an alternative route for emergency vehicle access, it's not acceptable."

When the latest pedestrian connector is complete, credentialed staff will be able to travel from the medical school to Conventus, and then continue in an existing connected skybridge system to Oishei Children's Hospital, over to a Kaleida Health tower feeding into Buffalo General Medical Center and Gates Vascular Institute, crossing from Buffalo General to Roswell Park Cancer Institute campus, along with connectors feeding from Roswell Park across Carlton Street at separate points, along with a pedestrian connector from UB New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences directly to Hauptman-Woodward at Ellicott and Virginia streets. There also is a new connector from the rear of Oishei Children's Hospital leading to the new parking ramp behind it.

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