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Latest Hospital Expansion Plans Would Divide Ambulance Traffic

RWJ Hospital Approved For Big Development Projects That Would Split Up Emergency Ambulances and Non-Emergency Ambulances
Tom Kelso
Thomas Kelso presented RWJ's plans for two new structures next to one another between French and Little Albany Streets. Charlie Kratovil

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) looks to continue its expansion in the Fifth Ward of the city, with two new development projects approved by the Planning Board on December 8.

The hospital has apparently decided not to go ahead with the East Tower expansion, which the Planning Board had previously approved.

Interestingly enough, the law allows nearly all (95%) of a "Downtown Hospital-Institutional District" parcel to be paved over and up to 70% of it to be built on. The proposed addition exceeds even those limits.

RWJUH intends to renovate 84,060 square feet of its existing buildings and add 40,000 square feet of new space, along with 24 beds in the Core/South Building and another building that would extend over the French Street sidewalk.

The 25 French Street project was the subject of two separate Planning Board applications, both approved unanimously at the same meeting.  The hospital said it considers the two projects to be separate even though they are adjacent to one another.

One application concerned the South Tower expansion on French Street, while the other dealt with the construction on the northern side of the lot on Little Albany Street side. 

The new building will have an entrance, primarily for hospital employees on Little Albany.

The property in question takes up 363,886 square feet, some of it covered by electrical equipment which will remain. The trees, fence, curb, bollards, sidewalk, streetlight, and spaces are all along the street.

This will largely be replaced, at ground level, by a six-ambulance loading/unloading area with an ambulance entrance and exit. This area would be for transportation ambulances, not emergency ambulances.  

There will be a 22-bed set of rooms, in a section called AMBI (the ambulatory care building), just off of the surgery waiting room. The hospital also wants to build a small chapel, referred to as a "place of contemplation."

While the hospital already has a chapel, it intends to move that function to a new location. Those beds will not be counted towards official totals of hospital beds because they are in an outpatient unit, not "overnight beds." 

There won't be much of anything to demolish: just four trees, three bollards, a fence, a curb, a streetlamp, a short stretch of sidewalk, four parking spaces, and more than 300,000 square feet of gravel.

RWJ estimated that the ambulatory care and Core/South Building expansion would demand 145 new parking spaces, but that the need was already met by the new 718-space East Tower Parking Garage.  The East Tower's offices would cause an estimated demand for 155 spaces, leading to a total of 300.

If the East Tower expansion were to be built, this demand rises to 514 spaces - still easily accommodated by the parking deck. (The official parking requirement for the 40,000 square foot expansion is 124 spaces.) 

Parking requirements are figured out through rules of thumb - in this case, essentially, the law requires 1 space for every 400 square feet of space inside the building, plus 1 space per (overnight) hospital bed.

The ambulance loading and unloading area will apparently be on floor G2, near offices and a shopping area.

The next floor up, G1,  will have a large storage space for sterile items and soft goods, small male and female locker rooms, an examination area with space for examining up to 22 patients at one time, along with a nurse station and a medicine closet), eight patient rooms with bathrooms, a common waiting area, another medicine closet, and an elaborate area for decontaminating hospital equipment and carts.

There will also be a scanning area, along with sterilizers for medical equipment, and a lounge for the staff. The sterile/soft goods storage space, the lockers, and the lounge are likely in the new expansion.

The "first floor" is actually three stories up from French Street. This is because Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital is on a hillside, and so the main entrance, a couple of stories uphill, is on that floor.

This floor will gain five operating rooms, a couple of large "support space" rooms, and a diagnostic imaging room, along with a control room.

Hospital architect Shannon Williams made comments about the lack of windows in the OR area. According to Williams, the hospital does not allow the OR area to have windows looking out onto the street or the city, so the hospital needed some other way to break up the facade in that area.

The hospital chose to use artwork or an advertising wrap, similar to the technique used on the Little Albany Street bridge between the hospital's main building and the Cancer Institute.

One of the operating rooms will be a "hybrid" operating room. Confusingly enough, this is another term for operating rooms that have CAT scans/MRIs/C-arms. A C-arm, like the CAT scanner, uses X-rays to scan the body.

The infill area seems to skip a floor and go to the third floor, whose addition will have an intensive care unit with space for 24 patients.  Each patient will have a place to rest/sleep, a couple of chairs, a toilet, and two sinks.

This ICU will have two nurse stations, an interior work area, a couple of meeting rooms, offices, a couple of medicine closets and two pantries, one lounge, and laundry storage rooms.

There will be plenty of glass and trendy decoration on the overhanging wall and on the "third" floor.

The hospital addition was discussed at the planning board because the addition's footprint - the land it will take up - is greater than the law allows, both for the building and for the impervious ground cover.

Also, the proposed addition will have no front setback from the sidewalk. Indeed, instead of a setback, the building would encroach 10.5 feet above the public sidewalk, extending 12 feet in front of the property line. The setback is zero at ground level.

This, of course, also means the hospital will be extending out into  airspace, which would require city and/or county government approval.

Fortunately for RWJ, they have the same attorney as the county government: Thomas F. Kelso.

The project will have a gap of just 3.8 feet between itself and the part of the hospital on the parcel "next door", an existing variance that was already approved by the Board.  Also, there is no setback in the rear: the addition will be a new part of the existing building.

The law requires a side setback of at least 5 feet per side, and it mandates a setback of 10 feet from the rear property line.

However, the New Brunswick Zoning Ordinance also calls for a minimum lot width and depth of 100 feet on that property - a third of the length of a football field.  The proposed development is on a parcel 995 feet wide and 434 feet deep.

All of the board members present, except for David Fresse, approved RWJUH's plans.  Fresse recused himself because he was a RWJUH employee.

Board members Crum and Garlatti had a discussion with project engineer Roche over crosswalks at the Little Albany emergency ambulance bays. Garlatti asked how the pedestrian entrance would change and how pedestrians would walk in front of the bays.

Roche said that the bay entrances would have crosswalks, but Crum replied that it would be better if pedestrians crossed to the other side of the street.

While Roche agreed that this was desirable, he pointed out that, in the hospital's experience, pedestrians sometimes simply preferred not to cross the street.