New Munson cancer center taking shape

$44 million facility has been under construction for a year and a half

By Dan Nielsen
Traverse City Record-Eagle

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Patients will begin receiving treatment in Munson Medical Center's new Cowell Family Cancer Center in February.

The $44 million, three-story, 100,000-square-foot facility has been under construction for a year and a half. The structure now is about three-quarters complete, Jim Fegan, Munson director of facilities construction, told the Traverse City Record-Eagle ( ).

Crews are installing doors, trim and cabinetry on the third floor. They're completing drywall on the second floor. They're installing radiation-blocking materials in the ground floor radiation treatment rooms. The brick exterior is nearly done. Workers planted flowers around the parking area last week.

"The outside pretty much replicates what we've done in the hospital," Fegan said of style choices.

Interior trim also will be comparable to Munson's main facility across the street. Fegan is familiar with the materials used throughout the hospital's campus. He has worked for Munson for 35 years.

The Cowell Family Cancer Center will replace the Biederman Cancer Treatment Center. That structure, along with the adjacent MRI building, will be demolished in 2016 after the adjacent Cowell facility is up and running. The two cancer centers will run in tandem for a time, Fegan said. Nine other buildings already were demolished to clear room for the new structure. Kid's Creek was re-routed around the site.

The new building is many times larger than the Biederman building, which has done duty as a cancer treatment facility since 1986. Before that, the Biederman building had been a Munson education center. It housed The Prescription Shop before Munson bought the property.

The Cowell building occupies much of the block. Munson will encourage patients to arrive at the center with a turn from West Front Street onto South Madison. That route will avoid direct competition with most traffic to the hospital across the street. An underground tunnel eventually will link the new building with the hospital to allow vacuum tube communication, food service transportation and occasional patient transportation, Fegan said.

Doctor's offices and exam rooms occupy much of the Cowell Center's third floor. A bank of elevators front the three-story-tall wall of glass that encloses the main lobby.

The second floor is devoted to chemotherapy. Input from cancer patients convinced Munson to build many of the 41 individual infusion units in a shared area. Private units also will be available. Patients will have a view overlooking green roof elements on the second-floor patio, Kid's Creek and nearby neighborhoods. A separate pediatric chemotherapy unit will feature a sealed bubble wall, something akin to a giant fish tank but without the fish.

Three radiation treatment vaults occupy much of the ground floor. High-density blocks that weigh 70 pounds each - 100,000 of them - have been stacked up in the walls and ceilings around the vaults that will enclose radiation machines. Some of the walls are five feet thick. Massive doors are filled with the same blocks to seal in radiation during treatments. The Cowell center's ground floor effectively replaces the services now available in the Biederman Cancer Treatment Center.

Original plans called for an 86,000-square-foot building. Then a full basement was added. The basement includes a conference/classroom.

Work has progressed steadily, Fegan said, but not without worries. Up to 125 workers have toiled on the project over the months. Munson had to compete with other area construction projects.

"We struggled to maintain resource levels," he said.

Project workforce was 80 percent local, Fegan said. Some specialty workers - such as the elevator installers - had to be hired from out of the area.

Munson said about 1,500 people in the area are newly diagnosed with cancer each year. It aims to centralize treatment for all its cancer patients in the new facility.

Published: Tue, Sep 15, 2015


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