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New UC Irvine Hospital Nears Final Go-Ahead

Two Board of Regents committees approve financing, and board approval is expected today on a lengthy project that officials say will add prestige.

May 15, 2003|Jeff Gottlieb | Times Staff Writer

Approval of a new hospital for UC Irvine was all but assured Wednesday when two regents committees unanimously approved a financing plan for the $365-million project, which campus officials hope will vault their medical school into the top ranks nationally.

The full 26-member Board of Regents, which oversees the 10-campus University of California system, is expected to give the final OK to the project in its meeting today. The vote is the last critical step needed before fund-raising and construction can begin.

"A lot of us have put our lives into this in the last three years," said Dr. Ralph Cygan, chief executive of UCI Medical Center. "It's the culmination of a lot of very hard work and very diligent planning. [Thursday] is going to be a very good day for the medical center, for UCI and for Orange County."

The new hospital has been important enough that UCI Chancellor Ralph Cicerone designated it the campus' top fund-raising target. UCI officials decided they had to raise $10 million in preliminary funding by this week's meeting to show support for the project.

Tom Mitchell, UCI's head fund-raiser, said the university met the goal. Among those who contributed are top administrators at the hospital and the university, along with physicians at the medical center. Cygan said he had made a "significant commitment" of his own.

UCI must raise $50 million of the construction financing, making it the largest fund drive in campus history, Mitchell said, at a time when the slow economy has all nonprofits struggling for money. Other funding sources include $17 million from medical center reserves and $235 million in state bonds.

The seven-story hospital will be built next to the five-story building it will replace on the university's medical campus in Orange. The new building will have 221 beds, slightly more than the old one, and more than half of the medical center's total beds. The current hospital will be demolished once the new one is finished.

The project is expected to go to bid in early fall, and construction should begin in late winter or early spring, Cygan said. Completion is set for Jan. 1, 2008.

Hospitals throughout the state must meet seismic safety standards by that year. UCI officials decided that it would cheaper to build a new hospital than to fix the old one. It also provides a chance to replace what was once the county hospital, built in the early 1960s, with an academic medical center designed for teaching and research.

"I think it will be a tremendous boost for us," Cygan said. "When you want to recruit other world-class doctors, you have to have first-class facilities, and this will give us state-of-the-art facilities so we can recruit on a national stage."

In Los Angeles, UCLA is receiving about $300 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to rebuild its Westwood hospital complex, which was damaged in the Northridge earthquake. Because UCI Medical Center came through the 1994 temblor unscathed, no federal money was available for meeting the new safety standards.

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