The Durham City Council unanimously approved a permit last month allowing for an addition to the Duke University Hospital.

Still in the early stages, the proposed addition would involve the construction of a 13-story, 504,423-square foot tower adjacent to the main hospital. Before the construction can begin, however, the plan must formally be proposed and approved by the Duke University Health System's Board of Directors. Kevin Sowers, president of the hospital, told The News and Observer that the proposal would only be presented to the board in June. 

“The addition is being considered because the current Duke North bed tower is in need of renovations,” Sowers wrote in an email. “To complete the renovations, there is a need to house patients while work occurs, since the hospital is operating at capacity.”

Normally, Duke does not need to seek permission from the Durham City Council to construct new buildings, said Steve Schewel, a Durham City Council member and a visiting assistant professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy. 

“We allow [the universities] a lot of freedom of what they want to do on campus without having to go through a lot of zoning approvals with the city,” he said. 

But in this instance, the University did have to get approval because the 145-foot height of the proposed addition would exceed the 120-foot height maximum found in Durham zoning ordinances. Sowers noted that, due to space constraints, "building up is the only option versus building out."

Despite the excess height, however, the Durham City Council had no reservations and unanimously approved the proposal.

“We agree with the University and the hospital that they should be able to build a hospital building of that height,” Schewel said. “We could see a lot of advantages for the city of Durham and for the people that Duke Hospital serves to have such a building.”

Sowers emphasized that this approval does not mean the University will actually go forward with the plans to construct a new building.

“The addition is only under consideration at this juncture and has not been formally recommended or approved by the governing boards of the Duke University Health System or Duke University,” Sowers wrote.

If the expansion is formally proposed and later approved, it will join other significant research and hospital construction efforts in recent years. For example, the University added the Duke Medicine Pavilion in fiscal year 2013 and the Duke Cancer Center in fiscal year 2014, with a cumulative cost of $781 million. These added a combined 160 hospital beds, 16 operating rooms and 25 clinic rooms.

The Board of Trustees also approved last June a 155,000-square foot, $103 million medical sciences research building, which is set to be completed by Fall 2018.