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Thursday, April 8, 2010 04:22 am

Getting bigger, going green

St. John’s expansion will be environmentally friendly


This artist's rendering of the planned renovation at St. John's hospital shows the proposed surgery area spanning Mason Street.

As St. John’s Hospital is preparing to renovate its downtown campus, the 135-year-old Springfield institution is paying special attention to minimizing the project’s environmental footprint and maximizing local economic benefits.

On March 31, hospital officials announced a $162 million proposal to demolish certain old structures on the hospital’s campus and replace them with more modern surgery, pharmacy and patient areas.

Dave Olejniczak, chief operating officer at St. John’s, says the project will incorporate several cost-saving, environmentally friendly designs, such as paints, stains and adhesives with low toxin levels, energy-efficient light fixtures and natural lighting whenever possible.

“A little bit of it is an investment up front, but the majority of it is going to be a cost savings down the road, in particular when we focus on the glass elements around the facility itself,” he says. “With having the natural light, it’s going to reduce the amount of artificial light we have to generate.”

Recycling is a big part of the design as well. From the carpet made of recycled fibers to the reuse of scrap materials such as steel and wood, Olejniczak says the project will uphold the hospital’s “stewardship values.”

“Envitronmental stewardship, from a Fransiscan perspective, is ensuring that we’re using the resources that we’re currently given to the best of our ability, and to take what we have and reuse it or recycle it,” Olejniczak says.

Project planners are also paying special attention to concentrating the economic benefits of the renovation in Springfield. Michael Houston, chairman of the St. John’s board of directors, says the vast majority of money spent on the renovation will remain here through the use of local labor and suppliers.

“Our latest unemployment numbers for the Sangamon-Menard County area were at 10 percent, and if you factor in those people no longer looking for work, not receiving benefits, it’s closer to 17.5 percent,” Houston says, explaining that a dearth of construction projects has contributed heavily to the high unemployment rate. “What we’re going to be able to do is put a lot of trade union people to work, not for a short-term basis, but literally for the next couple of years.”

Houston says the project’s construction manager has been instructed to employ local trade unions and contractors whenever possible.

“It’s not just the trade unions that are going to benefit,” he says. “The suppliers will be working with the contractors on the project to provide goods and services, so that has a tremendous economic impact. … The direct benefit of this is really going to flow to the people who reside here. We’re doing this at a time, from an economic point of view, that really is critical. Hopefully by the time we get this project going, it will have a huge economic impact in Springfield and Sangamon County for those people who are not working right now. ”

Houston says St. John’s wants to keep project money in the community because it, too, is part of that community.

“We are one of the largest employers in the Springfield metropolitan area,” he notes. “Certainly anything we can do to help the overall community will benefit us as well as the community. I think it’s a great day for Springfield.”

The project has yet to be approved by the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board, but Bob Ritz, president and chief operating officer at St. John’s, said he hopes construction can begin as early as January 2011 and be completed by 2014.

“This is really an investment and not an expense,” Ritz said of the project’s cost. “There is really no direct connection between this investment and the cost of providing health care. … It’s a reinvestment in this community and our mission.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.


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