LeChase collaborates to build new UR orthopaedic center smarter, faster

The new UR orthopaedic center an example of adaptive reuse of the old Sears store at Marketplace. The surgical tower, seen here, is unique in that it has been built from the outside in, providing workers shelter from inclement weather. (Photo provided)

A significant portion of the new UR Medicine Center for Orthopaedics and Physical Performance at The Marketplace Mall is already finished, and creation of the four-story clinical tower by LeChase Construction Services, LLC is expected to be completed by the fourth quarter of 2023.

Even as construction continues, the first surgical procedure is already scheduled for Jan. 9, barely three years after the $227 million project was first announced.

The University of Rochester is converting the former Sears store into one of the most comprehensive ambulatory orthopaedics facilities in the country, the largest capital project in school history.

So how have they been able to move so quickly? The condensed construction schedule was possible because the contractor had input with the university on site selection, and with design professionals from the New York studio of global design firm Perkins&Will, the architect.

“When we’re involved early on, we can help the design team look at some of those components that help construction,” said Kevin Hoffman, vice president and regional operations manager for LeChase.

One of those time-saving measures: the ability to create a unitized curtain wall system to enclose the building during construction. That allowed the project to proceed more quickly and shaved at least 2 ½ months off build time, Hoffman said.

“You can start the interior build-out faster, and you’re not exposing it to the elements,” he said.

The construction workforce — 95 percent of which was local — also wasn’t exposed to the elements of winter.

“It makes jobs attractive to our sub-contractors, that someone doesn’t have to work outside all winter,” Peter Muench, vice president of preconstruction at LeChase, said. “The tradesmen come in and know they already have a building with a roof on it. It yields a safer jobsite and everyone goes home the same way as they came to work that day.”

Using an existing structure also cut construction time. The adaptive reuse of the former Sears anchor store at the mall provided a jump-start on construction.

“The structure was there; the foundation was there, steel was there, roof was there,” Hoffman said. “And the existing slab was already removed prior to us starting to allow for underground utilities to be installed.


“If we’re doing more of a greenfield and we’re putting in foundations, structural steel and a roof on the building, it’s probably four to six months to do.”

Which was one of the many reasons The Marketplace Mall site was so attractive. The proximity to existing facilities, public transportation and major highways, as well as the existing infrastructure, led to selection of the Sears building over other locations in the area.

And a bonus: the town of Henrietta had already approved the site for a six-story building, meaning there was no need to seek any variance on construction plans for the clinical tower.

“So from a speed-to-market aspect, that allowed the university to start right up without having to go to the town and planning boards,” Muench said.

In construction, time is money, so converting an existing structure was a critical component in the project. So, too, was collaboration between builder and architect during the design process. The project initially carried a $240 million price tag, but $13 million was shaved off along the way, in part because bidding for many jobs took place during the COVID-19 pandemic and sub-contractors wanted to be working, said Robert Goodwin, design principal at Perkins&Will.

Another cost-saving measure came during design of the building’s curved look, which is meant to evoke the importance of motion for the body.

“The architecture expresses the nature of what goes on there,” Goodwin said. “People are coming there to repair and embrace their mobility.”

Thus, the curvature of the building was a critical design element. LeChase executives admit they were skeptical at first.

“Early on in the design Perkins&Will came forward with this curved façade idea, and Kevin and I looked at each other (because) we know what curves equal, and they equal money,” Muench said.

Too much money, LeChase thought, but through collaboration, they found ways to change construction elements while maintaining the concept of motion.


“We had a series of meetings to figure out a way to demystify making the curve constructable, economical and still achieve what the architects desire, the university’s look and the overall feel and the customer experience,” Muench said.

“What we settled on, the building is only curved in four spots and it’s very short versus big, long, flowing curves. We made very short segmental pieces. Kevin and the team working with the glazer and came up with a curtain wall system that had a little bit of flexibility in it. Early on in the budget there was a $1 million premium for all these curves. At the end of the day, it cost $100,000.”

Said Goodwin: “We optimized where it was necessary to use the curved panels, and did so in a way that we kept the essence of the design without breaking the budget.”

And that also saved time in the long run.

“The team was able to work early with the design,” Muench said. “We didn’t have to have someone draw something three times to know it was over budget and then come up with another idea. The early integration of LeChase with Perkins&Will on the project allowed the design team to keep moving forward without schedule delays: drawing something we knew would work, with input from the manufacturers, the design teams, the constructors.”

As a result, the curved building is aesthetically pleasing, and not just another four-story structure.

“This is one of the first projects I’ve seen that has that kind of elegance, that architectural presence to it, that actually made its way all the way through construction and not got pulled out of the project and turned into a square box,” Muench said.

There’s very little actual curve, despite what your eyes tell you. Instead, it’s mostly a series of flat-plate windows, each angled just a bit, that create the illusion of curved glass.

“Although the building visually shows a curve, the glass itself is not curved glass,” Hoffman said. “It’s a straight pane that the segmentation of those panels makes the curve.”

Health care facilities comprise about 40 percent of project volume for LeChase in the Rochester area, and the company is no stranger to adaptive reuse. The firm turned a former Tops Friendly Markets store on East Ridge Road in Irondequoit into the Riedman Health Center in 2018.

But just because there was an existing structure doesn’t mean it was health-care ready.

“One of the challenges is that big box stores, from a construction standpoint, are built in a very lightweight (manner),” Hoffman said. “Structural steel is typically like a bar joist; they’re big open ceilings without a lot of ability to hang a lot of large mechanical equipment, so there was a fair amount of structural reinforcement.

Clean Cube Medical System prefab operating room.  (Rendering provided)

“The operating room (there are eight), they have a series of booms — anesthesia boom, light booms, those sort of things that couldn’t be hung from the structure itself. So we installed new columns and beams that was robust steel to support this.”

The higher ceilings of a mall anchor store were an advantage, however. A typical building might be 14 to 16 feet floor to deck, Hoffman said. “This was upwards of 22 feet, so that was an attractive way of running large MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) systems above the ceiling and having significant space to do that.”

Another time-saving factor involved pre-fabrication of building elements, such as the Clean Cube Medical System created by Synergy Med of Golden, Colo., and the MEP racks. Pre-fab cuts speed to market time greatly.

“The walls literally come prefabricated with the electrical devices already in the wall,” Hoffman said. “The same with the ceiling system. There’s duct work already part of the ceiling system. In approximately four weeks, they can have an OR up that is substantially complete. It’s a turn-key OR where they did the floors, the doors, the walls and the ceiling.”

With an additional 30,000 square feet available for six future operating rooms, the pre-fab feature is especially attractive for health reasons. Construction in existing medical space can lead to health issues from dust and dirt, Muench said.

“But when you go in and have to remodel or add these ORs, it’s coming in pre-built so we’re not introducing dust, we’re not introducing dirt, vibration, all those things into the operating facility; it’s safe,” he said.

The project itself is less than a year from completion, thanks in large part to the collaborative effort, the contractor and architect say. There was no stalemate on design, no belligerent butting of heads.

“I have to say LeChase was one of the better contractors to work with in my 30-plus years in the business,” Goodwin said. “They connected us with some of their sub-contractors and we were able to optimize design to make it work with their methods. I’ve actually recommended LeChase for other projects already.”

The finished product is proof of the teamwork.

“The building was allowed to be what it wanted to be,” Muench said. When there are clashes between architect and builder, “then you have that disconnect and at the end of the day they don’t get the building. The design team’s unhappy, the construction manager had to fight the whole time and the university ends up with another square box.

“When we’re all walking in that same direction together, the outcome’s terrific.”

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