With the shift in consumer buying habits — think doorsteps with cardboard boxes decorated in smiles instead of people wandering fluorescent-lit aisles — thousands of retail stores and malls across the nation have gone belly up. But many of those spaces have been converted into churches, medical centers, community colleges, warehouses, and mixed-use residential spaces.
One example, and a first for Western, N.Y., is the recent $24 million adaptive reuse of a long-vacant Tops grocery store now the Riedman Health Center, part of the Rochester Regional Health system in Rochester, N.Y.
The system’s Rochester General Hospital needed a way to relocate some of its outpatient clinic traffic away from the main hospital. “They wanted to create an outpatient building that was easier for patients to get to,” says Michelle Trott, principal of healthcare design at Clark Patterson Lee, the architecture, design and engineering firm that worked with RGH on a solution. “Outpatients didn’t need to mix with the general hospital population.” Plus, many of these outpatients arrived by bus, medical van or on foot, so schlepping to a large hospital wasn’t very convenient.
Almost by accident, Dr. Eric Bieber, president and CEO of Rochester Regional Health, found the empty Tops grocery store, which had a large parking lot, was off a main road and on two bus routes. It is far enough from the hospital that users wouldn’t have to compete with hospital traffic but close enough for doctors to go back and forth to the hospital.
The existing building was a huge, open space with few columns or other obstructions and had great volume. “It allowed us to come up with a multi-story design,” Trott says.
CPL kept the main structure, removed the front of the building and cut into block walls on either side to bring in more daylight. Now, there’s a large front lobby filled with natural light — essential for patient and employee health. They re-did the roof to meet new energy codes and used local or recycled materials when available for the build out. There’s LED lighting and occupancy sensors to cut down on energy use and the hospital is considering solar panels for the roof. For exterior landscaping, they chose plants that require only rainwater to thrive. The structure is eligible for LEED-Silver Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.
Inside, they designed a corridor for patients and a parallel corridor for staff. Patient rooms have doors on either side, with entries to those corridors, so the back-of-house tasks can be done without patients having to encounter it. “There’s a nice, hospitality feel,” Trott says.
Patients now can see their dentist, family or pediatric doctor, get an X-ray, have blood drawn or go to the pharmacy all in one morning. “This one-stop shop is helping the community to have better access and fulfill their medical needs quickly,” Trott says. And, it relieves the congestion at the main hospital; only those truly in need of hospital and emergency services head there.
The benefits to this project have had a ripple effect. First, the hospital saved money since adapting an existing building was less costly than building new. Money saved from the original budget was used to purchase specialized equipment and technology. Less material ended up in a landfill since the whole structure wasn’t razed. And, “the corner has been revitalized,” Trott says. “It was a dark anchor and now it’s vibrant. The town supervisor has said the building has done wonders for that stretch of road. Nobody likes an abandoned building.”
While there are plenty of malls and retail stores that can be knocked down, so many can be re-purposed. The infrastructure is already there – the sewer, the electrical. If the structure is good, builders can rip off the old facades, reconfigure the interior white box and reuse the best of what’s there – columns, steel beams, underground utilities.