|SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
New S.F. General plan will save old buildings Constructing secret: Put part of hospital under the ground
Heather Knight, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, September 25, 2006
After many failed attempts, architects have come up with what initially seemed like a magical sleight of hand: building a new San Francisco General Hospital on the same campus without demolishing any parts of the existing facility.
The new plans -- to be unveiled today at a Board of Supervisors committee meeting -- involve building the new hospital between the two gargoyle-decorated red-brick buildings on Potrero Avenue and deep into the ground. The acute care hospital will remain in place just behind that space, toward Highway 101.
"It's the first truly feasible option we've had to rebuild San Francisco General Hospital," said Dr. Mitch Katz, the city's public health director. "We think we have figured out a smart way to do it."
Greenery now fills the space between the two red-brick buildings on a plot of land that previously wasn't considered big enough for a new hospital. Under state law, the new hospital and the red-brick buildings have to be 40 feet apart so the brick buildings don't crumble onto the new hospital in an earthquake, Katz said. The height of the new building is limited by zoning regulations.
But architects at Anshen and Allen have come up with what they call a "super-floor," which will be a huge basement underneath the 90-foot-high new hospital. The super-floor won't be bound by the 40-foot rule and can expand underground all the way to the edges of the surrounding structures.
That would give the city a seismically safe, acute care hospital with space for 230 beds and leave all the current buildings -- even the historic gargoyles -- in place.
Under state law, all acute care hospitals in the state must be deemed seismically safe by 2013 or shut by 2008. The matter is of particular urgency for San Francisco; a county civil grand jury's report in May concluded that San Francisco General, the city's only major trauma center, is vulnerable to collapse in an earthquake.
There have been many ideas for how to rebuild San Francisco General while keeping the hospital up and running throughout construction, but none of them has been deemed workable until now.
Some of the discarded ideas included purchasing pricey property in Mission Bay for a new hospital, building in the parking lot of the current hospital, tearing down a building adjacent to the current hospital that's used for outpatient care -- or even knocking down one of the red-brick buildings.
The cost of designing and building the new hospital is now estimated at $622 million; it had been more than $800 million in previous plans. City officials expect to put a facilities bond for the project on an upcoming ballot, which will need two-thirds approval to win.
The new plans are garnering support from the city officials who've seen them. Mayor Gavin Newsom, who paid for the feasibility study with $12 million in city funds this year, said the new plans show the rebuilding can have minimal impact on the current hospital and surrounding neighborhood.
"This is good news for San Francisco," he said.
Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, whose district encompasses the hospital, called the plans "a great attempt to try and satisfy a lot of parties."
Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who will chair the committee hearing on the rebuilding today, said he will support the bond measure campaign. "At first blush, it looks pretty good," he said. "It looks like they're really doing their homework."
Katz said he believes the bond to raise the $622 million for the project will go before voters in either June 2008 or November 2008 -- when high-interest presidential primaries or a presidential election will be decided.
"You want large turnout elections," he said in explaining the political calculations that go into deciding whether to go to the ballot. "Special elections tend to bring out more conservative voters."
The city also would need $157 million for furniture, fixtures and equipment, which cannot be paid with a facilities bond and instead would come from city general funds or private donations.
Under the new plan, the hospital will keep its 120 beds for psychiatric patients and patients needing advanced nursing skills. Those patients aren't bedridden or connected to ventilators or intravenous lines and therefore can be more easily evacuated in the case of an earthquake, Katz said.
The hospital may also become the site of administrative offices that are now rented by the city on Howard Street.
Katz said the new hospital probably wouldn't be completed until 2015, but he expects the city will have no problem getting a waiver from the state to go beyond the 2013 deadline. He said that he feels "incredibly jazzed" by the potential for building a new hospital without dismantling the old one.
"General Hospital has a special place in people's hearts," Katz said. "A lot of people's lives have been saved there."
E-mail Heather Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org.