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UC Irvine takes sustainability to new level with all-electric medical center

Healthcare Facilities

UC Irvine takes sustainability to new level with all-electric medical center

The preservation of a marsh was a big factor in the design and construction of this hospital and outpatient buildings.


By John Caulfield, Senior Editor | April 17, 2023
Rendering of the UCI Medical Center in Irvine, Calif., touted to be the nation's first all-electric healthcare facility. images: CO Architects
The two-building UCI Medical Center in Irvine, Calif., is being touted as the first all-electric hospital in the nation. It is scheduled for completion in 2025. Images: CO Architects

The University of California at Irvine (UCI) has a track record for sustainability. It recently received LEED Platinum certification for its 23rd campus building. Its under-construction UCI Medical Center is designed, positioned, and built to preserve the nearby San Joaquin Marsh Reserve, to reduce the facility’s solar gain by 85%, and to be the first medical center in the country to operate on an all-electric central plant.

The University of California’s system favors sustainable solutions, including its requirement that new construction be all-electric. Instead of filing for a waiver, UCI determined that it could meet that requirement “at only a modest premium,” says Brian Pratt, UCI Campus Architect and Associate Vice Chancellor. (The premium would be around $2.5 million on a project whose construction cost is $770 million and all-in cost will be over $1 billion.)

UCI Medical Center will consist of a four-story, 357,000-sf hospital with 144 beds, operating rooms, 20 Emergency Department beds, and 16 acute observation beds; a 223,000-sf Comprehensive Cancer and Ambulatory Care Center with 36 exam rooms, outpatient surgery, labs, and a pharmacy; a 35,000-sf central plant; and a parking structure with 1,340 spaces.

The parking structure was completed last year, and the outpatient building and central plant are scheduled for completion next year. The hospital should be done in 2025. To meet California and national code requirements, the power system will be backed up by diesel fuel generators (see Editor's note below).

A spacious lobby greets visitors and patients at the UCI Medical Center.
A spacious lobby bathed in sunlight greets patients and other visitors.

Electrification without compromise

The decision to go all-electric was made early in the design process, recalls Khristina Stone, Preconstruction Manager for the GC Hensel Phelps, which with CO Architects leads the Progressive Design-Build team on this project. Nick Spady, Hensel Phelps’ Operations Manager, says that installing the buildings’ electrical infrastructure and emergency generators pose the greatest challenges in an all-electric environment.

The bridging documents actually described an electric heating system that allowed for the use of natural gas for steam. But ultimately the design-build team and the university decided to dispense with steam boilers altogether, says Roger Carter, CEO and Senior Principal of tk1sc, the project’s MEP engineer.

Public terraces provide views of the marsh and campus
Public terraces include fritted glass that help reduce solar gain and bird strikes.

Carter notes that state codes now require hospital rooms to have constant air volume, which can impact the heating system’s’ load. An all-electric system will allow UCI’s hospital to leverage the central plant’s heat-recovery chillers to manage the building’s energy performance. Indeed, going all-electric is not expected to compromise the medical center’s operations, whose universal design allows for all patient rooms to be converted to intensive care units.

UCI Medical Center is being built under a Progressive Design-Build contract, which Pratt says has been the university’s bid-out preference for decades. He notes that hospital projects are complicated with many stakeholders, and a Progressive Design-Build agreement “allows for expert feedback earlier in the project.”

He notes, parenthetically, that prior to construction UCI had worked with the architect HOK for a year on the medical center’s programming. “This put up guardrails on the project, but with enough room for flexibility.” Gina Chang, CO Architects’ Principal and Healthcare Team Lead, says there was also a program alignment period, during which the team could receive comment and suggestions from UCI and the hospital’s users.

“The bridging documents weren’t overly heavy, so the contract set up a more positive relationship [with UCI] for flexibility and creativity,” says Stone.

The rest of the Progressive Design-Build team includes Degenkolb (SE), Stantec (CE), Ridge Landscape Architects (LA), Newson Brown Acoustics (acoustical engineer), and Colin Gordon Associates (acoustical vibration).

Indoor and outdoor wellness

UCI Medical Center sustainability graphic
UCI Medical Center will feature numerous sustainable and wellness elements.
 

Aside from its electrification, UCI Medical Center features other sustainable elements. For example, the choice of brace framing, which Pratt says was “rooted in resilience,” reduces the project’s measurable embodied carbon by 20 percent. CO’s Chang further explains: “We implemented the lightest structural system possible (BRBF buckling restrained braced frame) to reduce the embodied carbon footprint. Though we sought for carbon reduction also with the concrete design, the site had high levels of methane and other greenhouse gasses that needed to be contained, so a larger, mat footing was utilized to mitigate that problem.”

Dual-Shade mockups for UCI Medical Center
Dual-shade mockups for the UCI Medical Center. Shading is expected to reduce the building's solar gain by 85%.

After conducting several frit and shading studies, the design team optimized the building’s envelope to reduce its solar gain by 85 percent, and to minimize bird strikes.

The medical center will also tap into the city of Irvine’s robust recycled water infrastructure.

Chang says the marsh—which is managed by UCI biologists—drove the massing and position of the buildings. “We took seriously being a good neighbor to the marsh,” adds Pratt. The construction site includes a turtle fence. And the biologists said that runoff from the site was fine as long as it was treated.

Meditation gardens butt up against the marshland.
Meditation areas overlook the marsh land that influenced the massing and design of UCI Medical Center.

Like most healthcare facilities, UCI Medical Center is placing a premium on wellness. It has multiple areas for gathering outdoors, including walkable pathways and so-called healing gardens that offer views of the landscaping. (The outside plaza between the hospital and outpatient buildings brushes up against the edge of the marsh.)

“The landscape design and plant palette matter,” says Pratt. “And the marsh in the differentiator.” Indoors are numerous terraces, and other places of respite that include “lavender” rooms where staff members under stress can retreat.

________

Editor's note: After this story was posted, Ray Swartz, an engineer and Senior Principal with tk1sc, the project's MEP engineer, responded to a reader's question about the Medical Center's backup power source in the event of an electrical outage:

Swartz said that California's Department of Health Care Access and Information enforces a minimum of 72 hours of fuel storage for a new NPC-5 building, not the 96 hours required by NFPA 110. However, NFPA 110 requires the main fuel tank(s) to have a minimum capacity of at least 133 percent of the quantity needed by CEC 700.12 (B) (2) Exception 1 or 2. Therefore, for NPC-5 buildings, the minimum capacity requirement is 133 percent of the 72-hour fuel supply, equating to 96 hours.

The UCI Medical Center project includes four 3,000-kW generators operating in parallel. The capacity is adequate to service the campus in a 100 percent business-as-usual format. The generators are diesel fuel type, and the campus has an underground fuel storage capacity of 65,000 gallons. If, in an emergency, refueling the tanks is feasible, the campus could operate continuously under generator power.

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