By SHANNON O. WELLS
A groundbreaking ceremony on June 14 kicked off construction of a 17-story UPMC Presbyterian hospital on the former Children’s Hospital site at Fifth Avenue and DeSoto Street.
Dozens of Pitt and UPMC employees and leaders gathered under a large tent to launch the project that will bring a glass-enclosed, 287-foot-tall building to Pitt’s neighborhood — likely Oakland’s second tallest structure after the 535-foot-tall Cathedral of Learning. The 1 million-square-foot facility is expected to open in 2026.
Sandy Rader, president of UPMC Shadyside, shared her excitement with those gathered to see the project — one of three new facilities UPMC announced in 2018 — get underway.
“We are in the very spot where this beautiful building will soon, just four years from now, change the look of Oakland,” the 23-year UPMC veteran said, adding she feels “privileged to kick off this milestone and celebrate the innovation, the enhanced care and the care experience we bring to our community. Our existing UPMC Presbyterian … was built over 100 years ago, and we all welcome the new Presby, which sets us up for advanced health care in Pennsylvania for the next century.”
The new building’s curved glass tower paralleling DeSoto Street will house 636 private patient rooms, with a lower section facing Fifth Avenue serving as the main entrance. Lower floors will include a mix of retail space, a restaurant and coffee shop and a “spirituality center” oasis for patients’ families and visitors. A rooftop garden on the lower section will add to the property’s tree canopy and green space.
The hospital will provide what UPMC leaders call “people-focused” clinical facilities and amenities, delivering specialty care including transplant, cardiology and cardiac surgery, as well as neurology and neurosurgery. It is one of three current UPMC construction projects, including a new cancer treatment facility in Shadyside at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, and the nine-story UPMC Vision and Rehabilitation Hospital near Mercy Hospital, which is scheduled for completion later this year.
Leslie C. Davis, UPMC president and chief executive officer, lauded the projects as transformative to the Oakland landscape as well as the region’s health care needs. “We came together three years ago to announce our vision for three significant construction projects that will prepare us for the future. And here we are today — a day of celebration,” she said. “This new building that we're talking about today is the largest health care building in Pittsburgh's history. It will serve the communities for generations to come. And it will dramatically change the landscape of Oakland, of Pittsburgh and of Allegheny County.
“But it is so much more than a construction project,” she added. “It is the beating heart of life-changing medicine that only UPMC can deliver — locally, regionally and globally.”
In March, UPMC and HGA, the Minnesota-based design firm working on the project, gave the Pittsburgh Planning Commission a briefing on the proposed hospital. The presentation detailed its architectural aspects along with energy and water use, stormwater plans, open spaces, tree canopy, bird safety, public art, neighborhood enhancement and mobility.
The building will have 880,000 square feet dedicated for hospital use and another 191,000 square feet for parking and lower-level retail and restaurant space. The parking garage will accommodate 450 cars as well as bicycle spaces. Vehicles will enter on Fifth Avenue at the Atwood Street traffic light, with the driveway leading to a drop-off area in front of the hospital and the parking garage entrance.
Addressing the crowd at the ceremony, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro credited researchers and health care workers who make UPMC an institution worthy of state-of-the-art facilities.
“We're here to break ground on this new center for cutting-edge medicine right here in Presby,” he said, “but we wouldn't be here and wouldn't even have an opportunity to build this type of building but for the caregivers and the techs and the nurses, the doctors and researchers who've been at the forefront of this groundbreaking medical care on this campus, really for generations,” he said.
Private rooms for all patients
Following the groundbreaking photo opportunity, where several UPMC and Pitt leaders turned dirt on the property with shovels, Rader shared more about the facility’s features with the University Times.
The project’s planning committee, she noted, focused on a building that would “add to the landscape, not take away from it” as well as a place that provided ample comfort and amenities for patients and family members. Rader lauded the lower floors’ “lifestyle village,” describing the spirituality center as “a place where people can go in for a minute and pray.”
However, she said, “the biggest innovation is private rooms for all our patients. The patient rooms will still be patient rooms. The difference is technology” in communicating with and educating patients. She added that “environmental awareness” has been part of the building’s design and “guiding principles” from the beginning.
John Krolicki, UPMC vice president of facilities & support services at UPMC Shadyside and Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, said the project represents an embrace of the future in design and health care. “We’re so excited,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been working on this for over five years. It’s a good thing for patients and employees (currently working) to deliver health care in a 100-year-old building not designed (to modern-day standards).”
He said the new building’s “lifestyle village” is geared not only for patients and their visitors, but the Pittsburgh community at large, with amenities like restaurants; health, wellness and fitness services, including yoga; art displays and space for community meetings and music performance.
Developers also are working with five artists to create pieces that would be in the public access areas of the building. Renee Piechocki, a public art consultant working with UPMC, said these will be the first new public art installations in Oakland since 2005.
“It’s not real intuitive to come to a hospital when you’re not sick,” Krolicki noted. “(But) the goal really is for it to be a health building and wellness facility, so visitors will be comfortable coming in to a (sit-down) restaurant” in an environment featuring local and international artwork. “We feel this lifestyle village, no one else in the country is doing what we’re doing,” Krolicki said. “We really think this sets us apart.”
This summer, passers-by can expect to see a “big hole being dug,” Krolicki said, along with tower cranes and the beginnings of structural framing going up. He said he’s confident the glass-with-limestone-based building will enhance its immediate environment in Oakland.
“It’s a tall glass structure, yet the glass reflects the buildings around it,” he said. “It has its own character but reflects its surroundings. I feel it complements (what’s around it), yet it has its own identity.”
Shannon O. Wells is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com.
Have a story idea or news to share? Share it with the University Times.