University of Chicago Hospitals to build new children's hospital

$21-million gift from Lands' End founder launches construction of state-of-the-art pediatric facility

January 18, 2001

Gary C. Comer, founder of the Lands' End clothing-catalogue company, and his wife, Frances, have made a $21-million donation to help build the University of Chicago Comer Children's Hospital. Construction of the state-of-the-art $130-million facility, designed to be at the forefront of pediatric care in the new century, is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2001 and be completed early in 2004.

This matches the largest donation ever presented to the University of Chicago Hospitals. It is the fourth largest naming gift to any U.S. children's hospital.

The 242,000 square-foot, 155-bed, seven-story facility will provide an ultra-modern yet child-friendly setting for all inpatient children's health services at the University of Chicago Hospitals, including nationally recognized programs in cardiology, neurology, neonatology, transplantation and other medical and surgical specialties. It was designed not just by architects and health care providers but also by current and former patients, who contributed features that will bring many of the comforts of home into the hospital.

"We are tremendously grateful for the extraordinary commitment that Gary and Frances Comer have made to the well-being of children," said Ralph Muller, President of the University of Chicago Hospitals. "Their generous gift guarantees that the University of Chicago will remain at the forefront of children's medicine. Comer Children's Hospital will provide the best possible setting for superb patient care, pediatric research and training."

"My wife, Francie, and I are proud to be a part of this project," said Mr. Comer. It will set the standard for pediatric care in the next millennium and improve the lives of all who come in contact with it."

"What I like most of all," he added, "is its location, in the heart of the city of Chicago--my special part of my special hometown. I have long admired the University of Chicago for its role in anchoring and stabilizing the South Side of Chicago and this new children's hospital will be one of our finest achievements."

The Comer Children's Hospital will be built one block north of the current children's hospital, which, at 100,000 square feet, is less than half the size of the new facility.

Three hundred fifty-four feet long and 133 feet wide, Comer Children's Hospital will dominate most of the block, filling one side of Maryland Avenue from 57th to 58th Streets. Bridges, tunnels and walkways will connect it to the Bernard A. Mitchell Hospital (an adult inpatient facility), the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine (which houses the pediatric specialty clinics), and the nearby Ronald McDonald House (which provides affordable housing for the families of pediatric patients).

The new hospital will provide the optimal setting for the rapidly advancing technologies of pediatric medicine. It will include two 30-bed medical/surgical units--predominantly private rooms. It will include a two-story, 30-bed pediatric intensive care unit, more than twice the capacity of the current unit, with more space for each bed. The neonatal intensive care unit, at 55 beds already the largest in the Midwest, will expand to 65 beds and double the space per bed. The new hospital will add six surgical suites with operating rooms, preoperative areas, and recovery rooms designed to suit the specific needs of pediatric and newborn surgical patients.

The Comer Children's Hospital will bring together this advanced technology with a family-centered, kid-friendly philosophy embraced at the University of Chicago Children's Hospital. Patient rooms will be big enough to accommodate family members--308 square feet, compared to 177 in the current children's hospital--and there will be more common spaces for families, including sleeping areas (in addition to beds in the private rooms), a family kitchen and laundry facilities.

“In order to build the pediatric hospital of the future," added Muller, "we brought together not just doctors and nurses, architects and designers, but also patients of all ages and their families. After all, it is the patients and their families who have to live here while those of us who work here try to help them get better."

Many unusual components of the building plan came from the Kids' Advisory Board, a group of current and former pediatric patients who provide hospital staff and the design team with the child's perspective on a hospital stay. The children asked for lots of windows, bigger bathrooms, personal bulletin boards in each room, more group areas to socialize with each other, and a food court--preferably containing a McDonald's.

The plan calls for all that and more. Children and their families will be given an unprecedented level of control over their environment. Each patient will be able to regulate the climate and lighting in his or her room and open or close blinds embedded within large internal and outside windows to regulate privacy. They can use the computers in each room to select their own art work, play music, access entertainment such as movies or video games, or to communicate with other patients. They can adjust the height of the showers and chose their own bed linens.

Two architectural firms have worked together to design the building: a team from the Chicago office of HLM Design, the firm that helped design the award winning Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine; and one from Stanley Beaman & Sears, based in Atlanta, Georgia, which designed an award-winning children's hospital for the Medical College of Georgia. Their mission was to imagine a building that met the medical and social needs of patients and caregivers, complemented the current architecture of the University of Chicago campus and reflected both the academic community's respect for the history of knowledge and a child's wonder at the process of discovery.

The resulting design incorporated many characteristics of a gothic cathedral, such as a solid, heavy base with increasing use of glass and openness on the upper floors. A series of large precast concrete columns at the ground level will support soaring steel "buttresses," which will serve as a mainstay for large expanses of glass near the top.

At the same time, the surface of the structure will feature hints of nature as might be found throughout the campus or in a child's book, such as bits of ivy molded into the concrete. Copper and glass enclosures, containing open stair towers at the north and south ends of the building, will serve as "book ends" to the multiple vertical bays, stacked in between them like books.

"The new Comer Children's Hospital will be not only a beacon for our community, but it will also help us to recruit and retain the very best clinical and research faculty to advance pediatric medicine," said Herbert T. Abelson, MD, George M. Eisenberg Professor and Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Chicago.

The Comer gift, which make this all possible, matches a 1994 donation as the largest ever presented to the University of Chicago Hospitals. Richard Duchossois and family donated $20 million to the University of Chicago Hospitals in 1993 to build the award-winning Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine and simultaneously donated $1 million to the University to support a named professorship in medical oncology. The Comers are giving $20 million to build the new hospital and as much as $1 million to fund patient and family education programs in the Gary Comer Family Resource Center within the hospital.

Today's gift brings the fundraising effort, known as "At the Forefront: University of Chicago Hospitals Campaign for Children," to a total of $33 million--two-thirds of the way to its $50-million goal.

Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Gary Comer, 72, started Lands' End in 1963 and is currently chairman of the board.

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