Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 5
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
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New Hospital On Track For Completion By End Of 2011, Rabner Says

Dilshanie Perera

Progress on the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro continues to move at a steady pace, reported Princeton HealthCare System President and CEO Barry Rabner. The new hospital will be located on a 160-acre campus at the intersection of Scudders Mill Road and Route 1 North, 2.5 miles away from the current hospital location on Witherspoon Street.

Construction on the building is slated to be complete by the end of 2011, and the project is “on schedule and on budget,” according to Mr. Rabner, who added that many building materials and fees have come in below budget due to the economy, leaving some room to maneuver when unexpected issues arise.

As of Tuesday, the HealthCare System Foundation had raised $109 million for the new hospital. “People, companies, and foundations have been incredibly generous,” said Mr. Rabner, explaining the total cost of the building is $447 million.

Other sources of capital come from the sale of the current hospital campus to Philadelphia-based firm Lubert-Adler, the sale of the current Merwick Care Center site and adjacent surface parking lot to Princeton University, and savings, monies earned, and loans, Mr. Rabner said.

The current site on Witherspoon Street has been rezoned to allow for condominiums and modest retail.

“We originally looked for 50 acres to take care of our longterm needs, but we found 160 acres…that has turned out to be one of the best decisions we’ve made,” Mr. Rabner acknowledged, adding that the space allows for the “opportunity to create a healthcare campus, not simply a replacement hospital.”

A replacement for Merwick, the transitional and long-term care center, is due to open at the new site with a 200 bed capacity by the end of this summer, “ahead of schedule,” Mr. Rabner reported.

“Just last week we signed a letter of intent with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP)…to sell them land so they can build a pediatric subspecialty pavilion,” Mr. Rabner said. The specialized site on the healthcare campus would provide key outpatient services for children.

Negotiations are also in the works for building a fitness and wellness center, as well as an assisted living facility at the Plainsboro site. “They’re all complementary services,” Mr. Rabner noted. A 120,000 square foot medical office building for physicians on the medical staff will be another amenity.

“We’ve signed an agreement with NRG to build a cogeneration plant…and what they call a ‘photovoltaic cell grove,’” Mr. Rabner said, explaining that the solar panels would shade cars in the parking lot while also capturing energy. Electric cars would have the potential to plug into and charge their batteries at the site too.

Other sustainable features have been incorporated into the design of the new hospital. A grant and loan from Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G) “enabled us to do a host of things to improve energy efficiency,” ranging from installing efficient motors and generators, to environmental control systems, to horizontal shades on the exterior of the building to minimize drastic heat reduction and gain.

“All of the features we’ve designed into the building expect a return of less than 15 years,” Mr. Rabner said, acknowledging that the challenge of incorporating sustainable elements into the design of a new building is the initial expense.

The total value of all of the construction on the healthcare campus “could approach $1.1 billion,” Mr. Rabner remarked, adding that the fact that some of the partners are for-profit companies, and that they have to pay property taxes, is important for the local municipalities.

As for the recent $1 million gift by Princeton resident and hospital trustee JoAnn Heffernan Heisen toward the Infusion Suite in the Center for Cancer Care at the new hospital, Mr. Rabner praised her “great generosity,” calling the gift “affirming.”

“Whenever you get a gift, you can’t help but view it as a vote of support,” Mr. Rabner said. “It feels particularly gratifying when it’s someone who knows every detail of our organization and our plans.”

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