MUSC tower nears completion

CHARLESTON, S.C. - Amid screeching power saws and ringing hammers, hundreds of workers labor on the Medical University of South Carolina's almost $400 million Ashley River Tower - the most expensive hospital project in state history and the first phase of a more than $1 billion medical complex.


About 500 workers are on the job site these days, working to complete, by early next year, the modernistic building of steel and glass resembling a curving sail.

The building consists of a seven-story tower with patient beds and a four-story center for diagnosis and medical operations connected by a light-filled atrium.

The complex is resistant to hurricanes and earthquakes.

Its windows won't break in winds of 220 miles per hour, and the building is 15 feet above grade near Charleston's Ashley River, keeping it largely out of the way of a storm surge.

Gaps engineered into the building allow it to move as much as 16 inches should an earthquake occur, said Dennis Frazier, the hospital's facilities administrator.

Inside are separate hallways for moving patients to operating rooms so they aren't wheeled down public hallways, reducing the risk of infection. Corian, which many people use for kitchen countertops, has been installed on the walls of operating rooms, allowing for better cleaning and a reduced threat of infection.

Medical equipment is suspended from booms in the ceilings, meaning less clutter and allowing easy replacement with new technology. Panels at the ends of the building can be removed to allow large equipment into the operating rooms.

The new hospital will have 156 beds to treat patients with cardiac and digestive diseases, adding to about 600 beds in nearby MUSC medical facilities.

The plan is to expand the new hospital in phases to eventually replace MUSC Medical Center, which was built in the 1950s. MUSC has 600 students and employs about 11,000.

The investment will easily surpass $1 billion, said MUSC President Raymond Greenberg. He said the initial plan was to expand over two decades, but recent thinking has been to do it sooner to keep costs down.

"When people look at this hospital, they think it's the Medical University of South Carolina and therefore tax dollars paid for it," he said. "There's not one nickel of tax money."

Dr. Greenberg said it is being paid for by revenues from taking care of patients.

The hospital building cost about $275 million, but add the medical equipment and infrastructure, including a power plant, and the cost approaches $400 million. The overall project ranks among the most expensive in state history. The $632 million Ravenel Bridge opened two years ago across the Cooper River.