UCSF’s $4.3B ‘Hospital of the Future’ Breaks Ground, Kicking Off 6 Years of Building Trades Work

By Robert Fulton | contributing writer

Ground has finally broken on a highly anticipated and much-needed project that’s set to transform the City’s Parnassus Heights neighborhood while providing a significant amount of work-hours for building trades members across the crafts clear through to the end of this decade.

On Saturday, April 27, UC San Francisco Health officially began construction on what it refers to as “the hospital of the future.” The $4.3 billion Helen Diller Hospital will be a 15-story, state-of-the-art facility on UCSF’s Parnassus Heights campus — and thanks to a project labor agreement signed in early 2021, it will all be union-built.

“We’re really excited that it’s moving forward,” said San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Rudy Gonzalez. “It’s a great opportunity to inject some economic recovery into the City overall.”

The new hospital is scheduled to open in 2030, with the joint venture Herrero Boldt Webcor serving as the general contractor. A new research and academic building is also in the works nearby. Ground is expected to break on that project in October, with a completion year target of 2028.

Meanwhile, the 880,000-square-foot hospital, designed by lead architect Herzog and de Meuron and architect-of-record HDR, will increase UCSF’s bed capacity by 37% to 682 beds. It’ll also add 22 new operating rooms and 31 new emergency care beds.

The structure will join two existing buildings — Moffitt and Long — to form one large medical campus. Helen Diller Hospital will replace the demolished Langley Porter Psychiatric Hospital.

Brian Newman, chief real estate officer and vice-president at UCSF Health, emphasized the importance of building capacity and upgrading facilities. He said that many of the rooms in the campus’ current structures lack privacy and are too small to accommodate today’s advanced medical technology. Due to these capacity issues, UCSF turns away thousands of patients a year, he said.

Both the new hospital and academic building are being built under a PLA that was signed nearly three and a half years ago. SF Building Trades Secretary-Treasurer Gonzalez estimated that a peak of 1,000 trades members would likely be on-site once work gets started in earnest.

He called the PLA — the first of its kind forged between the trades and the University of California — a landmark agreement.

“It’s also really important that we have these jobs for apprentices, and the PLA provides that path to get on this job,” Gonzalez said. “We’re really excited to build under a PLA — the project will enjoy labor peace, which isn’t always a guarantee at the University of California.”

Gonzalez said that the trades have traditionally enjoyed a friendly relationship with UCSF on new construction. He also noted that the council represents about 75 workers at UCSF facilities, including HVAC and fire alarm technicians, among others.

“We are a stakeholder with UCSF in a variety of ways, in both the public sector and private sector, and I would say they’re a good partner,” Gonzalez said. “There’s always room to strengthen the relationship.”

According to UCSF’s website, the hospital project has a 30% local-hire target for construction workers. The first job-training cohort started on Monday, April 22, in collaboration with CityBuild.

“We build extremely complex facilities, whether they be clinical care [or] life science research, and we need the most highly skilled, best-trained, and technically adept construction workforce that we can get,” UCSF Health VP Newman said. “That, by definition, [means] the members of the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council.”

The UCSF project is expected to be a catalyst for a region whose economy has been slow to recover from the pandemic.

“This means a lot of work for our members,” said Ramon Hernandez, business manager of Laborers Local 261.

The jobsite will involve some unique challenges. Its footprint is relatively small, and access can be difficult. Hernandez explained that the work will have to be done in a way that doesn’t interfere with the 24/7 operation of the current medical buildings and won’t impede access by emergency vehicles.

“It’s physically a challenge because of not only the shape of the space and the

design but also the main artery,” Gonzalez said. “It’s that much more complicated and requires the highest degree of coordination and planning.”

Doubtless it’s nothing the building trades can’t handle.

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