New Women's Hospital Gets A Shot of Sustainability

August 11, 2010

Seven years ago, officials at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital took a hard look at Prentice Women's Hospital, knowing full well that, after 25 years of service, their Gold Coast jewel was delivering many more births than it could handle. It became clear that it was time for a new, grander women's hospital, one with updated technology and advanced clinical services, to keep up with the competition in the hotly contested Chicago women's health market.

For Alicia Murasaki, NMH's senior project manager for campus development, the primary goal was nothing new: design a world-class facility to support the world-class patient care NMH is known for. But Murasaki, an architect by training, also wanted to inject a new concept into this formula—sustainable design. “I think sustainable design is one component of good design,” she says. “Good design will only enhance our ability to give good patient care.”

After investigating Energy Star and the British BREEAM system, the NMH team settled on the newly launched LEED for New Construction as a sustainability framework for the project. This was a radical decision, because few hospitals were even aware of LEED at the time. “The LEED system, although very new, was attractive to us because it was not prescriptive,” recalls Murasaki. “Healthcare is such a regulated industry, and we had to make sure we could take from LEED what was important to us and work with it.”

The NMH team did have some concerns about LEED: whether it would add to costs, delay construction, or impose unwanted limitations on the building's design. They even worried about finding the right building materials to meet LEED criteria. But the Building Team—VOA/OWPP Design Collaborative, a joint venture of the Chicago architecture firms VOA and OWPP; Power Jacobs as construction manager; Environmental Systems Design, MEP engineer; Thornton Tomasetti, structural engineer; and a slew of contractors—was able to overcome these problems, with a little luck.

“We were a little lucky, because the industry caught up in terms of building materials and other things,” she says. “Even on the contractor side, people were just beginning to do things like sort and recycle construction and demolition waste. There's just more understanding of those things today.”

Murasaki says that LEED meshed with NMH's standards of excellence. For example, optimal indoor air quality for patients and staff is an NMH standard, but it's also a major component of LEED. “That wasn't a difficult decision,” she says.

Other sustainable design elements include a 9,500-sf green roof, a low-e glass curtain wall system that provides ample daylighting while controlling energy usage, task lighting for nursing stations and patient rooms, and a sophisticated building automation system. “We have a whole team involved in energy and water usage, to tune our building to the seasons,” she says.

Murasaki says she regrets not being able to use low-voltage lighting in the project, but reliable systems were not available at the time the electrical and lighting design was finishing up. “That's an exciting technology that I'd like to look at in the future,” she says.

Sustainability, she says, is “just good design, and now we have more tools to benchmark and compare and make good decisions.”

Working with city building officials proved to be a “refreshing” experience. “They already knew about things like what it took to install a green roof,” said Murasaki. “It was nice to not have to educate them. They were already on board.”

At 947,500 sf, the new $501 million facility is nearly triple the 337,500 sf of the facility it is replacing. There's more of everything: 328 beds vs. 159 in the old facility; 32 labor and delivery rooms (vs. 24); 144 newborn bassinets (vs. 100); 10 operating rooms (vs. 6); and a capacity for 13,600 births a year (vs. 10,000). The new hospital has eight breast/plastic surgery rooms and 72 hematology and oncology med/surg rooms—services the old facility lacked. The 86 neonatal intensive care beds make the NICU three times larger than the one in the old facility. It is one of the largest NICUs in the country, capable of caring for 1,300 infants a year.

The new Prentice Women's Hospital opens this month. Murasaki and her team debated for months whether to do the documentation necessary for LEED certification. “We asked ourselves if LEED certification would help us in our mission of patient care, or bring in more patients,” she says. The conclusion: not necessarily.

“But we decided that, to be an industry leader, to be good stewards, to show our concern for the community, we needed to do it,” says Murasaki. The project will seek Silver certification under LEED-NC.