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Med Center puts off master plan

A spate of ongoing building projects at the Medical Center points to an institution in rapid flux. The new and the old in medicine, research and clinical care--everything is expanding its boundaries and demanding space.

The Medical Center has invested more than $150 million in current construction projects, including several buildings for the Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, an addition to the radiation oncology department and facilities for the Ruth and Herman Albert Eye Research Institute. A potential expansion of the School of Nursing is currently in the planning phase.

Partly because of these changes, administrators have decided to put off development of a master plan for the Medical Center's physical structures for at least a year. Rapid change to the physical layout of the Medical Center, particularly surrounding the radiation oncology addition, played a large part in the decision to delay the plan. Eventually the plan will coincide with the University's long-range planning, said Gordon Williams, vice dean for administration and finance at the School of Medicine.

"We thought the timing might be better to wait, and we all want to see what the economy is doing," Williams said.

Despite the tepid national economy, Williams explained that the sudden surge of expensive building projects will not be a financial burden on the Medical Center. "We're financially stressed, just like everybody else, but Duke is in a pretty good situation right now. We've invested our money well," he said. He also pointed to recent faculty success in gaining outside research support--including an 18 percent increase over the past year--and a University pledge of $30 million for IGSP construction.

Williams maintained that the projects are largely meeting demonstrated need and are not designed to keep up with peer institutions. "It just kind of happens that they're all hitting at this particular time," he said. "We're not doing this because [other universities] are doing this. We have great faculty, so you invest in that."

Radiation oncology is one department that has long been pressing for additional space. "Right now, there's no doubt we're undersized for our current patient volume in radiation oncology," Williams said.

Expansion to radiation oncology's space will allow the installation of two additional linear accelerators, an MRI unit for three-dimensional treatment planning for radiation therapy and support for the hyperthermia unit, noted Dr. Ed Halperin, chair of the department and vice dean for academic affairs at the School of Medicine. "This additional space will support the development of innovative conformal therapy for the treatment of cancer, radiosurgery and the use of large-field irradiation for bone marrow transplantation," he wrote in an e-mail.

Two major research buildings--the $40 million Center for Human Genetics and the $45 million Center for Models of Human Disease--will support the IGSP, a University-wide initiative designed to meet the medical and scientific challenges of the genomic revolution.

The Center for Human Genetics, a 125,000-square-foot facility headed by Professor of Medicine Margaret Pericak-Vance, will house both an informatics core, dedicated to the collection of epidemiologic genetic information from families, and the Genomic Research Laboratory Core, centered around biomedical research on the nature of genetic disease. One floor of the building is designated as expansion space for the School of Medicine.

Construction is nearly complete on the second IGSP building, the Center for Models of Human Disease. The 129,000-square-foot building will house up to 20,000 transgenic mice, each bred to have a particular set of genes, along with the accompanying traits. Researchers will use the mice as tools for studying complex human disorders like heart disease.

Instead of building a third IGSP facility, the Medical Center invested approximately $17.5 million in the University's Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering, Medicine and Applied Sciences building--scheduled for completion in August 2004--in exchange for 45,000 square feet of space. IGSP headquarters, as well as space for collaborative programs with the School of Engineering, will find room there.

The Medical Center is building an extensive laundry list of smaller construction projects, as well.

Eye research has only about 10,000 square feet of research space right now, which will double with the completion of the Eye Research Institute--an estimated $23 million, state-of-the-art research and children's clinical facility.

"Eye research is a major initiative right now," Williams said.

The Health System is finishing the DUHS Clinical Laboratories Core Lab, a facility located near Durham Regional Hospital designed to coordinate routine clinical testing. Durham Regional Director of Laboratories Dr. John Daly noted that the lab will improve efficiency and turnaround time.

A long-awaited expansion and consolidation of the School of Nursing is also being considered.

Williams pointed to the diversity of planned and ongoing facilities projects as a sign of success. "From a research standpoint, we're growing," he said.

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