Massive Hospital Expansion Moving Forward: Two Towers Planned For French Street

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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The first of two new towers is under construction at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, as part of plans approved by the city Planning Board last year.

The first phase of the project, a 7-story parking garage, topped with two stories of hospital offices, was approved in May.

This project is being built on an 8.35 acre property that was mostly occupied by a gravel parking lot, and was once eyed as a site for a towering research facility.

The Christopher Reeve Stem Cell Institute in New Brunswick seemed like such a done deal that officials and officials even held a fake groundbreaking, where Gov. Jon Corzine dipped a shovel into a box of dirt at the site in October 2007.

The building would have had 18 floors, a total of 160,000 square feet of space, and sported 72 laboratory modules on three floors, offices, and conference rooms.

But Gov. Corzine had anticipated voters would approve borrowing $450 million to help finance the center, and others like it across the state.

That loan went down to defeat on November 8, 2007, when voters rejected the bond issue 53% to 47%.

Corzine lost the 2009 gubernatorial election to Chris Christie, and the site remained a parking lot until the 2013 approvals.

Instead, the vacant gravel site where homes and the original Doll's Place bar once stood, was used for hospital parking for years while hospital officials figured out what to do with the site.

The nine-story parking structure will include faux storefronts.

Just down the road, Robert Wood Johnson officials were approved fo another tower, this one including a hospital pavilion with operating rooms, intensive care units, and private patient bedrooms.

In an unusual design, part of the building would overhang Route 27, if the state and county approve.

That development is intended for an 8.13 acre site French Street, and will have the ability to add at least 80 beds to the hospital, 51 of which would be assigned to the intensive care unit. The tower would be built on top of an existing structure, bringing the total height to 113 feet (seven stories).

The hospital already has 584 beds. At least six operating rooms will be added in the new configuration

The next to top floor ("Level 5") is portrayed in site plans as being "unassigned" or a "shell", suggesting that it might be reserved for future use or expansion. Judging from the uses of the two floors flanking it, it could become a new patient ward or intensive care unit floor. 

A new lobby and entrance will be a part of South Tower, which will be defined by metal and glass panels. Part of the building is intended to overhang French Street, providing a two-story-high "canopy." The pavilion will be connected to the rest of the hospital, via bridges, on the top three floors. 

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital was founded as the New Brunswick City Hospital in 1884, but it changed its name to the "John Wells Memorial Hospital" in 1889, when Grace Wells donated a building at the corner of Somerset and Division streets in her husband's memory.

The Wells Hospital became the "Middlesex General Hospital" in 1916 and took on its current name in 1986.

From the original site donated by Mrs. Wells in 1889 (which is still on hospital property, although the buildings have been replaced), the hospital gained wards and an operating room by 1912, and later on, it gobbled up the site of the Children's Industrial Home next door (to the west).

By the 1950s, the hospital, now the "Middlesex General Hospital", occupied half of a city block, and it built a tower in the middle of that block in 1959. By the 1970s, it had put up a new tower on the site of its original building.

Beginning in the 1990's, the hospital rapidly expanded into the Fifth Ward neighborhood it has called home, causing the demolition of dozens of homes and businesses and completely eradicating at least two city streets, Brown and Scott Streets, forming what could be said to be a massive wall along French Street.

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital has garnered accodolades in recent years and expanded into other locations statewide, most recently merging with Somerset Medical Center in Somerville.

US News and World Reports ranks RWJ as among "America's Best Hospitals," and the American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer rates the hospital as being among the best cancer centers in the country.

The Leapfrog Group placed the hospital on their list of the nation's "50 Exceptional Hospitals."