Monday, May 19, 2008

Firm to determine whether Charity can be restored
Independent study will examine building
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
By Jan Moller

The Times Picayune

BATON ROUGE -- An internationally renowned architecture firm has been hired to conduct what some are describing as the first independent study of whether Charity Hospital can be restored into a viable health-care facility after sustaining major damage from Hurricane Katrina.

The Foundation for Historical Louisiana has tapped RMJM Hillier, a Philadelphia company, to examine the potential cost and viability of bringing back the Depression-era Art Deco building on Tulane Avenue on a temporary or permanent basis.

Sandra Stokes, the foundation's executive vice chairwoman, said previous studies commissioned by Louisiana State University, which operated the hospital before it was mothballed after Katrina, have focused on the damage done to the building by the hurricane and subsequent flooding.

"There have been no structural assessments looking at the building as a whole," Stokes said.

The assessment comes at a critical time for LSU, which is planning to build a $1.2 billion, 484-bed replacement for Charity Hospital in partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

A business plan for the proposed new hospital is under review by the state Department of Health and Hospitals.

The new study could potentially provide a boost to community activists who have long maintained that an independent study would show the hospital can be reopened quicker and at less cost than building a new hospital.

LSU officials have said the building was in disrepair and in need of replacement even before Katrina, and that the hurricane rendered it permanently unusable for delivering health care. "We think the building was fatally damaged by the hurricane," said Charles Zewe, a spokesman for the LSU System.

Stokes said the study, which is privately financed, was prompted by House Concurrent Resolution 89, which the Legislature approved in 2006. According to the resolution, the study will first look at whether the bottom three floors of the 1 million-square-foot building can be reopened on a temporary basis.

But Zewe said LSU wouldn't have enough staff to operate a new temporary hospital. The school has reopened about 230 beds at University Hospital and a network of outpatient clinics since the storm, but Zewe said University could have 350 beds in operation if enough doctors, nurses and technicians were available.

RMJM Hillier's previous restoration projects include the U.S. Supreme Court and the Payne-Whitney Gymnasium at Yale University. Stokes said the review is expected to begin next week and will take about three months to complete.
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Jan Moller can be reached at or (225) 342-5207.

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