Florida Children’s Hospital Opens Brand-New Facility on Greenfield Site

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Nelson-Roque-thumbOver six years ago, The Nemours Foundation dreamed of building a brand-new children’s hospital in Central Florida that would outpace and outclass any other form of healthcare in the region.

Preliminary planning for the project began in early 2007. At that time, Nemours hired Nelson Roque to manage the construction of this $400-million, 620,000 square-foot investment. Roque would eventually become director of facilities and construction for Nemours Children’s Hospital.

Around 2008, Roque said, the details and design of the project began to take shape. “That’s when it really got fast and furious.”

At issue was the location. Nemours had been looking for property closer to the center of town, but Florida is a certificate-of-need state, so proximity to other hospitals became an issue. Not only did Nemours need jurisdictional approval for a new location, but its competition was also objecting to the organization’s intended site.

Then, Orlando city officials revealed plans for the land southeast of the airport. Their ambition was to create a medical city. Already in the works was a veterans hospital, the Central Florida School of Medicine, and the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute.

On top of this, the land was a greenfield site. It had originally been a cow pasture, and nothing had ever been built on the land. The Nemours Foundation executives agreed that being part of this medical city was ideal for their mission, and they immediately purchased 60 acres.

“Thank God they did,” Roque said, “because it’s turned into something really great. It’s getting press all over the country.”

Building with the best

The benefit of being part of a large organization such as Nemours, Roque said, is its access to resources. The best architects were hired, the most experienced consultants brought in, and the foremost experts across a variety of fields were used.

Nemours also tapped into its in-house talent to determine the model of care the hospital would offer and the most effective design for the building. Flow was of the highest priority.

“We were able to sit down and put on paper some different throughputs and what departments we would like adjacent to other departments, trying to use evidence-based design from experience and from what we could read or learn,” Roque said. “We had a lot of visits to other hospitals all over the country that have really beautiful and innovative things. Not one is perfect, though, so we borrowed from them all to try to come up with the better mousetrap.”

Another matter in discussion was how the hospital was going to open with not just a new facility, but also a new staff.

“We were totally green as far as our end users were concerned, and by end users I mean the administrators that were going to run this hospital, the doctors that were going to provide care for the kids, the nurses, everybody even the maintenance folks,” he said. “Everybody was going to be new to the building and each other.”

And because every end user was going to be a fresh hire, Roque’s team found it “very hard to design or try to design this place always knowing in the back of my mind that these doctors and administrators were going to come into play and want to do things differently than what we were going to design for them originally.”

He added, “It was just one of those things that in theory everything works but in real life certain things have to be tweaked.”

A successful first year

In spite of this, Nemours Children’s Hospital’s first year of operation has been a rousing success, Roque said. “I think it’s been wonderful actually.”

The main issue that remains is parking. The hospital needs more of it, he said. “It’s been painful at times hosting some large events that bring on a large number of vehicles because of the lack of parking.

“But all in all, I think the building has performed very well from a facilities standpoint. There are a couple little tweaks to be made. Valves need to be more accessible, but the building’s performed very, very well.”

He added, “I’m very surprised with the low energy consumption. Our utility bills are much lower than I had anticipated.”

Building a robust infrastructure for both IT and utilities, though, was a priority from day one, and Roque said he was thankful The Nemours Foundation allowed him to do everything he requested during construction.

To him, this project was an example of how certain events over the last decade have enhanced the importance of facilities directors nationwide.

“We’ve learned a lot from different natural disasters,” Roque said. “Maybe we weren’t building these things as robust or strong or as invincible as we thought years ago. Now with the different storms that we’ve had and the other Mother Nature-related incidents that we’ve had, we’ve learned a lot. I think that every facility guy out there needs to spend a good portion of his day explaining to senior members and making sure that they realize how important some of this stuff is.”

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