Topping Out ceremony for Akron Children’s medical tower comes 2 months early


Akron Children’s Hospital joined Welty Building and Boldt companies on April 2 to celebrate the topping out of the new 368,735-square-foot, 7-story medical tower. Despite challenges imposed by this year’s weather, the project is currently ahead of schedule.

“The celebration today is a testament to the excellent job of the project team in delivering a top-notch facility ahead of schedule,” said Stephen Powell, consultant for CBRE Healthcare. “For a project in northeast Ohio to be able to say we made it through this past winter 2 weeks ahead of schedule and still beat cost targets is a testament to the process and team we have in place.”


The $200 million campus expansion has been constructed using a non-traditional approach called integrated project delivery (IPD). This approach seeks input from everyone involved in the project – including patient families and staff – before anything is designed.

In addition, contractors are hired at the start of the project and work together through all aspects of the project as a united team.

This was never more apparent than this winter.


“We have had 72 significant weather days, when we only planned for 55,” Powell said. “Yet, we are still 2 weeks ahead of schedule, a 6-week swing from what we had originally planned for on paper.”

For each day the project is completed early, the hospital saves about $7,500.

As the structure team handed over finishing work to the interior teams, the various teams and hospital leaders celebrated the magnitude of the job.

According to Tom Conti at the Boldt Company:

  • 148,900 cubic yards of dirt were moved on the site
  • 6,130 feet of storm and sanitary pipes were installed
  • 21,845 cubic yards of concrete was poured using 2,731 concrete trucks
  • 1,296 tons of rebar was installed
  • 30 miles of conduit runs throughout the structure
  • 32,000 survey points are located throughout the building

“It is so great to see the building take shape on our campus after all the months we spent planning it,” said Grace Wakulchik, chief operating officer at Akron Children’s Hospital. “Everything about the building is so well thought out and it is all about providing the best care to our patients and their families.”

The new tower will be connected to the existing hospital in February 2015 and will be open to patients later next spring.

No kid wants surgery, but here’s to making the process the best it can be

How do we build a same-day surgery center that satisfies the needs and desire of everyone – patients, patient families, doctors, anesthesiologists, nurses and surgical support teams?

As Akron Children’s Hospital moves forward with its plans to build a $200 million critical care tower, teams continue to meet, brainstorm and test out architectural designs in a true-to-scale setting during weeklong Kaizens. Kaizen is a Lean term that refers to improving processes continually by making incremental changes.

Parents Beth Tenda and Judy Doyle participate in the Kaizen to design the new outpatient surgery space.

In September, a team representing outpatient surgery gathered in a warehouse, where cardboard-like walls defined surgical suites, recovery rooms, pre-op areas and other spaces and allowed doctors, nurses and patients to move through their typical day.

As the Kaizen began, several issues were front and center:

  • The need to create the ideal number of surgical suites based on current patient volumes as well as future growth.
  • The need to keep the ORs running as efficiently as possible, taking into consideration the ebb and flow of higher and lower volume procedures, as well as planned and emergency cases.
  • Focus on flow – How much walking will be required for patient families, as well as the doctors and nurses?
  • Movement of supplies in and out of the ORs. Surgical instruments come into the room sterile and the proper equipment must be assembled for each case, whether it’s an ENT procedure, an eye surgery or an orthopedic case.
  • Providing a calm environment that promotes privacy.

As the week began, it felt like this was an impossible task to come up with a floor plan that addressed all of these concerns and made everyone – from the anesthesiologists to the surgeons and the surgical support team – happy.

We were reminded again that Akron Children’s is a dedicated pediatric hospital and that children are not “just small adults.” The team worked to ensure excellent sight lines of patients in the recovery unit design to enhance patient safety.

“Unlike an adult hospital, children in the recovery unit don’t necessarily stay in bed,” said clinical coordinator Tina Sanzone, RN, BSN. “We need to have patients in view to ensure patient safety.”

The team went through phases of anticipation, discouragement and hope as each day welcomed success, frustration and new architectural drawings of the space. Each layout, when constructed three-dimensionally, generated dissatisfaction that the ideal plan still had not been developed.

Until Day Four.

When the exhausted team found their architectural team had worked overnight to meld the best ideas from two of the previous designs, they realized they finally had a winner.

The last design greatly improved patient flow. It offered easy access to storage. Doctors and nurses were not wasting extra steps within surgical suites or between them and other key spaces. The plan built in flexibility for growth and change down the road.

“The translation of design from paper to three dimensions can be eye opening,” said Beth Carr, MSN, MBA, RN, director of Nursing for Surgical Services. “When you see a design on paper, you envision it to work correctly. It’s not until you are actually in the space, and moving within it, that you realize it may not be ideal. The process takes time and patience. When you think there are no options, options present themselves.”

Video: Child life specialists weigh in on Akron Children’s new critical care tower

Our child life specialists play a critical role in helping to reduce stress and anxiety for children and families before, during and after medical procedures. It’s a perspective they’re sharing with the team planning and building the new $200-million critical care tower at Akron Children’s Hospital.

Getting the parents’ perspective for new building

Feedback from families has played a key role in the design phase of a new critical care tower at Akron Children’s Hospital’s downtown campus.

During the process, parents were able to interact with full-scale floor models of the new patient care areas and were joined by their children for a focus group.

Parents, kids create wish list for their ‘dream’ hospital

In a free-wheeling exchange of ideas, the parents who participated in a focus group to help design Akron Children’s Hospital’s new critical care tower clearly love much about the current facility. They hope to see Akron Children’s culture preserved as it grows bigger.

Parents used phrases like, “comfortable,” “bright,” “warm,” “clean” when asked, “What should be the first impression of Akron Children’s?”

Sarah Sanford said she hopes the new hospital tower will remain a place where “everyone you meet with knows your child.”

Megs Pollock and Jackie Smolinski agreed with that sentiment, adding that they didn’t want the new building to be “too sterile,” or to “look like an airport terminal.” In other words, even if it is big, make it feel small.

Parents attending the session included mothers who had newborns in Akron Children’s NICU as well as those who come to the hospital often with children who have complex healthcare needs.

While the parents talked about what they wanted in the new building, a group of kids were in a nearby room drawing pictures of their “dream” hospital and sharing their own opinions.

While Michelle Ott talked about the importance of having automatic, wheelchair-accessible doors that her daughters could open themselves, 13-year-old Jenna Ott drew a picture of a hospital room with a canopy bed, a “gummy bear” bean bag chair, and lots of pink and purple.

Jenna’s design was conservative compared to other kids who envisioned robots, roller coasters, an ice rink and a beach incorporated into the new hospital.

“I love that kids were invited to this event and that they have a say,” said Michelle.

Jenna has had 20 surgeries so far in her young life and older sister, Alix, who also attended, has undergone more than 50 surgeries. The Ott girls were excited to think that they may actually see some of their ideas in place when the hospital tower opens in 2015.

The parents were also asked what they appreciated about the existing facilities, what they would like to change, and the best way to create a healing environment.

Parents associated healing with kind-hearted, friendly people, serene colors, natural light, music and water.

MaryBeth Fry said NICU moms would get hope from seeing pictures of preemies juxtaposed with pictures of the same children doing well in middle school, high school or college.

Even if the NICU gets bigger – with individual rooms – Fry and the other moms want the new space to balance their need for privacy while giving them the opportunity to meet, develop a support group and maybe even become lifelong friends.

“Research shows that when you reduce stress for parents, you reduce stress for the child,” HKS architect, Rachel Saucier, told the group.

How do you build the perfect children’s hospital tower? Ask Parents

Over the past 8 years or so we have had our fair share of hospital visits between my mom’s cancer, Jordan’s multiple visits, and welcoming new members into our family – not to mention my experience as an occupational therapist.

We’ve seen and experienced many hospitals in the area. We often take for granted the amazing healthcare systems that surround us. Until tonight we didn’t realize what goes into the planning of creating a place that is patient friendly and effective in their healthcare.

Randy and I were honored to join a group of parents in the planning process of building the new Akron Children’s Hospital medical tower. We found it to match up with the values to treat all patients like they were your own.

As parents, we were given an opportunity to give our point of view on what matters to us. What we like about the existing buildings, how we feel when we enter, what we would do differently, and what could be done to give a feeling of hope.

It was great to be able to bounce ideas around. We tried to envision an environment that would create a feeling of caring, and that alleviated as much stress to allow you to focus on the children being cared for in a nationally recognized facility.

The parents involved in this town hall meeting ranged from “frequent fliers” (those families who visit frequently), past parents, NICU parents, parents with multiple children receiving care, and members of the Akron Children’s Foundation.

The most popular ideas focused on creating an environment that involves warmth, creativity, informative and warm staff members, natural lighting, efficiency for patients receiving care from a variety of specialists, wheel chair accessibility, and the need for areas on the floors where families can relax in a monitor-free environment similar to the Reinberger Family Center.

Reflecting back on the ideas, I think of all the senses. If you close your eyes, what do you want to hear? Water, laughter, music? If you plug your ears, what do you want to see? Bright colors, smiles, pictures of healthcare providers with their patients, children’s art work? How about smell? Sterile, flowery, fruity?

We really didn’t talk about touch, but wouldn’t it be great to have areas for a type of tactile input. Maybe even an indoor playground. I truly think comfort is communication as well. Children who can’t read or for those of us who don’t look for signs to read, the follow the yellow brick road method is helpful.

The team also invited a hand-full of children to bring their creative juices into the process. They met with some child life specialists and an architect to give their view of how they feel about hospitals and what they would like to see in the future. They also created collages to show their ideas.

What better way to capture a place where the child feels comfortable and at ease? I really liked the idea of the flowers for the floors, the color purple for a sign of hope, and dinosaurs. I’m not sure the hissing sound of snakes is something that makes me feel at ease, but who knows, it may work for those who are reptile lovers.

We’ll see the ideas that are used. It’s all a process and we felt honored to be able to give back in a manner other than financially. We are so grateful for Akron Children’s and the treatment and hope they have given to our family and the families we’ve been honored to interact with.

Read more about Megs’ and Randy’s journey of raising a child with spina bifida through her blog, Labor of Love.

Integrated Lean Project Delivery flips the design process

For the past few months, hospital leaders, patient families, doctors, nurses and clinical staff have been meeting regularly with architects, builders and Akron Children’s Lean Six Sigma process improvement team to plan the new patient tower, which is part of a $200 million expansion.

The process, known as Integrated Lean Project Delivery, is expected to:

  • improve productivity
  • eliminate waste
  • enhance the overall patient experience

It’s expected to reduce costly change orders in the construction phase and the project’s overall cost.

“We plan to build flexibility into our design so that we can be prepared for the changing health care environment,” said Grace Wakulchik, chief operating officer. “For example, we are designing our new neonatal intensive care units so they can become pediatric intensive care units or even general patient rooms if our patient volumes and patterns change.”

Akron Children’s Chief Operating Officer Grace Wakulchik

Department teams, in conjunction with the architects, are using small scale models, including paper dolls, to design their floors. Blueprints will be tested in full-scale mock-ups constructed in a local warehouse.

This will allow doctors, nurses and patients to walk down hallways, enter exam rooms and reach for supplies – catching potential problems – well before the real construction begins.

Construction will begin in the spring of 2013 and will be competed in 2015.

The companies assisting Akron Children’s with project management include: