UCSF Looking for Ideas for Campus Revamp

By Thomas K. Pendergast

Now that the UCSF Mission Bay Medical Center and campus are open, attention is turning back to plans to transform and update the UCSF Parnassus Heights campus.

The Parnassus campus is more than 100 years old and much of the infrastructure is no longer state-of-the-art. Barbara French, vice chancellor of Strategic Communications and University Relations, said the oldest campus in San Francisco’s University of California system houses the schools of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and nursing, along with an adult hospital, the Helen Diller Medical Center.

Many of the buildings on campus are more than 50 years old. The campus was not built with an overarching plan in mind but instead was constructed piecemeal as opportunities came up, French said. The university is going to need to build a new hospital, as well rebuilding older structures in order to meet California state seismic regulations that will kick in in 2030.

The hospital alone will be a $1.5 billion to $2 billion project, but planners will also be taking a look at what they can do with the entire campus.

“We are one of the largest bio-medical research institutions in the country and the way research is being done now is changing in terms of more team science; needing scientists from different disciplines to work together. So, we saw this as an opportunity to reconfigure space, make the campus more flexible and create more open space,” French said at the university’s first open house in December, which started discussions with the public and neighbors.

“What we’re doing here tonight … is to get their continued feedback on what they’d like to see in the campus and how the campus can continue to be an integral part of this neighborhood,” she said.

French noted that they do a lot of research in immunology, stem-cell biology and diabetes. The university has two hospital buildings at the Parnassus site and it already knows that one of them will definitely not meet the 2030 seismic requirements.

They expect the entire process of updating the Parnassus campus to last between 20 and 30 years.

“All hospitals in San Francisco and those in the Bay Area are seeing a much higher patient demand than we originally projected even five years ago. The reason for that is a much quicker growth in the San Francisco population than people thought, as well as aging Baby Boomers. San Francisco will have one of the oldest populations in the state and so we’re projecting a greater need for the kinds of services than we even thought about five years ago,” she said.

Dr. Dan Lowenstein is the executive vice chancellor and provost for the campus. He said the success of the university and medical center depends on the quality of people available.

“It’s all about the people and we are now currently dealing with a tension between these two things: when it comes to research, the ability to attract and retain the very best people who have the most creative minds on the planet,” Lowenstein said. “That ultimately determines anything that’s great that comes out of a university. That is truly the bottom line and we have so many brilliant people here who have this incredible creativity. The tension is that they have these creative minds and they’ve landed in a place in the world that is almost impossible to live in anymore because it’s so damned expensive.

“And so now, more than ever before, these fantastic people who we’d like to attract here aren’t quite sure that they want to come because it’s so expensive or they’ve been here for a number of years and they’ve been so successful that they’re now getting attracted elsewhere. They’re getting offers at places that are more affordable,” he said.

The university is hoping to retain good researchers.

“We can’t move all of the research at Parnassus down to Mission Bay, not even close. So, we’ve made the decision that we need to do something about the infrastructure here at Parnassus. The buildings are old, many of them more than 50 years, so I’ve got faculty working in labs that are nowhere close to what they need to have, let alone deserve, given the quality…. There’s a perception that Parnassus has become second-tier, compared to other places,” Lowenstein said.

Daniel Iacofano, the chief executive officer of the urban planning design and consulting firm Moore, Iacofano and Goltsman, went over the results of a neighborhood survey they did last summer and then gave an overview of the process they are starting.

Iacofano said they have organized the process into three phases: discovery, alternatives and future direction. They also formed a community working group with members of the community who have volunteered to help guide the process. There are more than 20 people in the group so far.

“We don’t have a plan at this point,” Iacofano said. “This is still very much in an exploratory, discovery phase as far as all of these efforts are concerned. We are hoping to bring forward some clarity on a draft plan maybe in February, at the end of the month, so several months more to go on that, at which point we hope to see reflected in there some of your ideas and feedback. Hopefully we can build some direction for the university.”

At the open house the university had five work stations set up to garner feedback from attendees. They were:

• “programs and amenities,” asking what programs and/or amenities would make sense for UCSF to offer the public;

• “public realm and urban design,” looking for opportunities to improve access, connectivity and wayfinding in and around the campus;

• campus improvements that could benefit the neighborhood;

 • mobility, with two questions: “What are your suggestions for improving mobility in and around campus?” and “What are the traffic problems currently existing near and around the campus?;”

• housing, explaining that UCSF is considering more housing options at the Parnassus campus, so, “What sort of considerations do you think UCSF should take into account?”

Lily Wong, assistant director with Community and Government Relations at UCSF, said the university is soliciting feedback from neighbors about the re-envisioning process.

For more information or to offer feedback, email or call Wong at lily.wong3@ucsf.edu or (415) 476-8318.

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