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Top Stories 2012: FHSU, HaysMed changing Hays skyline

By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

Significant building projects have altered the Hays skyline this year. And looking ahead to next year, more changes are afoot.

Building projects totaling approximately $45 million are under way by two Hays institutions: Fort Hays State University and Hays Medical Center.

Opening in August, FHSU's newly constructed Tiger Place will be joined next August by a second, as yet unnamed, residence hall. In addition, construction on the the $4 million Schmidt/Bickle Indoor Training Facility is due to wrap up in May.

It's been a busy year for FHSU Director of Facilities Planning Dana Cunningham, who, in addition to the university's other projects, is in the design phase of developing a new building: the Center for Networked Learning.

The 37,150-square-foot building, which will house the Virtual College, Center for Teaching Excellence and Learning Technology, Department of Informatics, radio and TV studios, and laboratories for the new information systems engineering program, is estimated to cost $11.2 million.

Once the Center for Networked Learning is built, Heather Hall is slated for demolition.

"Our goal is to restore it to an open area," Cunningham said of the Heather Hall location between Forsyth Library and Malloy Hall. "Some day we hope to close a small portion of South Campus Drive to return it to a pedestrian way, and that will create a green linkage down into what will be sort of a secondary quadrangle."

The new building will be a much more optimal learning space, he said.

"A much, much better working environment," Cunningham said. "Bigger studios.

"It's a super move for those folks."

In addition, FHSU will begin construction of two wind turbines shortly after the first of the year, which are hoped to generate a majority of the university's electrical needs. FHSU President Edward Hammond on Friday signed a contract for two wind turbines with Vestas, an international wind turbine manufacturer. This will be the sixth Vestas project in Kansas.

With construction prices lower than during previous year's projects and increasing FHSU enrollments, Cunningham said conditions have supported capital growth.

"It's been a great time to be building because work typically is slow in other parts of Kansas, so we're getting good prices and, frankly, we're trying to put all we could in the pipeline to take advantage of it," Cunningham said. "We're seeing a much more competitive bidding environment than we saw 10 or 12 years ago."

Meanwhile, across town from the university, the Bickle Tower at HaysMed has changed the shape of that ever-expanding facility.

Set to open the second week of February, the tower will house the cardiology department, administrative, human resources and information technology offices.

An eight-phase renovation project for patient rooms also is under way. Slated for completion in July, the renovation will entail new bathroom installations and room upgrades.

Women's health areas will be expanding, with renovations set to be complete in July for obstetrics, addition of a Caesarean section room, labor rooms, recovery rooms and two observation rooms. A new breast center also will be added to the north end of the medical center. Its opening is projected for fall of 2013.

Also started is renovation of medical oncology, which will result in the addition of several treatment rooms, pharmacy, nursing space and an expanded waiting area. And renovations to the hospital's emergency room have begun. The ER renovation will entail addition of increased security and additional exam rooms.

Jackhammers in an adjacent room illustrated the direct impact of renovations as Dale Montgomery, HaysMed vice president of support services, from his office last week, outlined the hospital's projects.

"We're constantly looking at the way we're doing things and the space it takes to make that happen," Montgomery said. "We sit down with architects and people who are experts in the field and they help us understand how we can take an existing building and make that work.

"It's very difficult to take an existing building and do the things we're doing."

Noise disruptions have become commonplace for patients and staff during new phases of each construction project.

"But our staff has done a great job of working through it," Montgomery said. "Our patient satisfaction numbers have stayed high.

"The staff is doing a great job of explaining to people that we're improving for the future."

However, determining what that future might hold is a challenge HaysMed staff is working on. Changes throughout the last decade have included an increase of outpatient over inpatient services. In addition, new mandates from the affordable health care act also are likely to change how patients use hospital services.

"We anticipate that there will be more people coming through the door, and we hope that includes wellness," Montgomery said.