After City Council approval, new Cancer Center looks to begin first phase of construction
By: Atiya Irvin-Mitchell
In early March Northside residents can expect the groundbreaking for the new Allegheny General Hospital (AGH) Cancer Center. The $200 million investment is the result of a joint multi-year effort between Allegheny Health Network (AHN), the Northside Leadership Conference (NSLC) and numerous community outreach groups.
“Since [City] Council approved the Institutional Master Plan, the hospital has preceded with refining their design for the center. Sort of defining exactly what materials and how it connects to the existing buildings, those kinds of construction details,” executive director of the NSLC Mark Fatla said.
While the March groundbreaking is meant to be symbolic, the official start to construction won’t begin until April with a 2019 end date, according to AHN senior public relations specialist Stephanie Waite. However, before construction begins Fatla addressed there are still details that will need to be finalized.
“They presented to the planning commission … and they received approval for the design,” said Fatla. “What will happen now is they have some other details to work out [such as] landscaping and other odds and ends.”
According to Waite, the AGH Cancer Center will be a reflection of the Allegheny Health Network’s commitment to the Northside and an investment in cancer services. AHN wants the center to be as “patient-friendly” as possible and will be adding waiting spaces with an abundance of natural lighting along with a healing garden. Approximately 30 new employees will be hired to staff the center.
In addition to the cancer center, AGH will be reconfiguring the parking garage at West North Ave. and Sandusky St. to accommodate expected patients. Plans are in place to replace the exterior of the garage and redesign the interior to allow for valet parking for cancer patients, according to Waite.
Currently, AGH staff utilize the parking garage along with shared parking in Allegheny Center and shuttle parking on the North Shore. During a September 2017 public meeting about the original IMP proposal, a mention of a shared parking garage between AGH and Allegheny Center Alliance Church (ACAC) was brought forward. At the time the proposal cited a joint-effort between ACAC, AGH and the NSLC to build the 500-car parking garage. ACAC is working to build that parking garage on the church’s property with the intention it may be leased out to AHN’s employees however, those discussions are not finalized.
“We’ve been sharing the parking garage and we’ve been sharing a whole floor of the Allegheny Center office building, that’s where we have all our children’s ministries right now,” ACAC director of operations Ken Turnbull said. “So the larger plan is that we’re going to expand our parking onto our property and continue that legacy.”
If the shared parking garage at ACAC, which residents will also be able to use, does reach construction it won’t be built until after the center is completed.
“There will be a new structure but we’re not close to building that yet, the first focus is the cancer center and then there are a hundred details to work out,” Fatla said. “I think the garage will be phase two.”
David Parda, M.D., will be the acting chair of the center and is determined to make the center a place where cancer patients can receive “world class” care without ever having to leave the city.
“Patients with rare and complex cancers can get remote second opinions from Johns Hopkins’ doctors. They can also participate in clinical trials led by Johns Hopkins’ researchers,” Parda said. “AHN patients get expedited and prioritized access to the trials because of the AHN and Johns Hopkins’ connection.”
Although this is subject to change, Fatla doesn’t anticipate major traffic disruptions for residents. There is a possibility of occasional lane closures, but the specifics will not be known until the construction schedule is finalized. However, once construction is underway Fatla promises that residents will be updated throughout the process and is hopeful about the impact the AGH Cancer Center will have on both the Northside and its residents.
“In the long run you’re going to have – right here in the heart of Northside – a state-of-the-art facility to treat folks who are facing cancer and it’s also going to be housed in a unique and attractive structure that adds to this historic campus in a creative way,” he said.