New Erlanger Children’s Hospital outpatient center is part one of $300 million expansion plan – Chattanooga Times Free Press

Children’s Hospital Outpatient Center

Total cost: $35 million

Erlanger contributes: $11.5 million

Public contributes: $23.5 million

Raised so far: $8 million


Announcing they already have raised about a third of the money they will need, Erlanger Health System officials Wednesday kicked off their public fundraising drive to build a new $35 million Children’s Hospital outpatient center.


They also showed off final drawings for the ambitious project, and stressed why, in the words of project manager Bruce Komiske, “There is no more important building in Chattanooga than Children’s Hospital.”


Children’s Hospital CEO Don Mueller said Erlanger has raised $8 million in contributions and pledges of the $23.5 million it needs from the public for the new center. The hospital will contribute an additional $11.5 million of the cost from its own funds and part of a $70 million bond issue.


Mueller said the hospital has outgrown its current building.


“We have world-class care, but in a 40-year-old infrastructure,” he said.


When the present Children’s Hospital was built in the 1970s, parents were discouraged from staying with their children, but that has now changed, increasing the need for space, Mueller said.


“We have rooms that are not big enough for parents to sleep in them, even if we renovate,” he said. Some parents even resort to sleeping on the floor beneath the cribs to stay with their new babies overnight, Mueller said in an interview before Wednesday’s news conference.


The first major donors to the new building were Olan Mills II and his wife, Norma, who made a $1 million contribution. Mills is an heir of the Olan Mills Inc. portrait photography company, which was sold in 2011 to competitor Lifetouch.


Mills said he hoped the fundraising drive “can be part of getting more people in the community involved with Children’s Hospital.”


That donation was matched by Erlanger’s Volunteer Auxiliary, which also has pledged $1 million. In addition, about 1,000 Erlanger employees have contributed more than $500,000, Mueller said.


PEDIATRIC CARE “HUB”


Erlanger officials went to great lengths to emphasize the importance of the children’s facility to the entire East Tennessee region.


“We serve 100,000 patients annually from 16 counties,” Mueller said, noting all five of the hospital’s Life Force helicopters are equipped to transport children and perform surgery while airborne, if needed. “This is not just a building — it is a hub for the pediatric care network for this entire region,” he said.


The new outpatient center is focused on making the hospital experience as child-friendly as possible, Erlanger officials said. Children and parents will enter the hospital through a small train station, which will include a vintage 1891 locomotive on loan from the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, Komiske said, and Erlanger personnel are working with the Creative Discovery Museum in Chattanooga to design exhibits in the waiting rooms.


Mueller insists that making a hospital visit fun for a child is an important part of medical care.


“Remember going to the doctor when you were a kid? You kicked your mom because you didn’t want to go,” he said. “We want kids to get used to a children’s hospital that has toys and games, things to play on. It lowers their anxiety and makes it easier to treat them.”


The hospital is working with the Chattanooga Fire Department to obtain the cab portion of a fire truck to put in the hospital for children to play on, said Komiske, a veteran children’s hospital designer who has worked on facilities in Chicago, San Francisco, Rhode Island and New York.


The train theme is a nod to the interests of the hospital’s founder, Baron Emile d’Erlanger, Komiske said. Erlanger, a wealthy German banker, was touring the U.S. in 1891 to review his railroad investments, including some in Chattanooga, when he pledged $5,000 to be supplemented by local donors to start a hospital here.


The final design of the new 90,000-square-foot facility keeps the bright exterior and interior colors of the preliminary plan, which hospital officials showed off last May. That’s a trademark of Komiske, who is editor of a book, “Designing the World’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” which emphasizes the importance of playfulness in making medical facilities kid-friendly.


Erlanger officials said Wednesday they hoped to break ground for the new center sometime in 2016.


A THREE-PHASE PLAN


The outpatient center is the first phase of what Erlanger hopes will be a $300 million three-part expansion plan. The second phase is the Children’s Hospital Inpatient Center, which will be attached to the outpatient center, while the third phase would be a combined women’s and infants’ pavilion.


Mueller said hospital officials hope to have plans for the inpatient center firmed up by the end of 2016, while the women’s pavilion is still in the planning stages. He said the outpatient center was the most important of the three facilities in terms of the number of children it will serve, about 100,000 each year.


Whether all three phases eventually will be built depends on the community response, Mueller said. “It will take a community effort to make this happen.”


Mueller also announced the launch of a new website to promote the fundraising drive, www.webelieve.build


Contact staff writer Steve Johnson at 423-757-6673 or sjohnson@timesfreepress.com.