The University at Buffalo’s new medical school will be the size of three Walmart supercenters when it opens on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus in 2016.

But the project’s designers aim to do more than provide ample space, with a glass atrium and terra cotta facade to reflect the city’s classic architecture.

The construction work following today’s groundbreaking ceremony also starts a culture change.

“The big picture is that it lets us start to transform a medical culture into one that achieves excellence from internal collaboration instead of from competition,” said Dr. Michael E. Cain, the dean of the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and UB’s vice president of health sciences.

When finished, the $375 million, eight-story medical school will be a key component of a long-sought vision to bring hospitals, research and doctor-training facilities to one downtown location.

The two L-shaped buildings – connected by a glass atrium at Main and High streets – give the medical community a chance to better align and improve scientific research, medical education and patient care among the different institutions and health-related professions.

“It’s a seminal event for us," said William Joyce, chairman of the Medical Campus board of directors. “If you are an aspirant to be an academic health center of national significance, and we are, you need to integrate research, education and clinical care.”

The medical school will return close to where it started in 1846 next to Buffalo General Medical Center.

Officials say the new school will serve as the entrance and connecting hub to the rest of the Medical Campus.

The project coincides with other developments in the Medical Campus’ five-block area, including Kaleida Health’s Gates Vascular Institute and UB’s Clinical and Translational Research Center.

Other construction under way includes Kaleida Health’s new $237 million John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital, Ciminelli Real Estate Corp.’s $100 million medical office building, and Roswell Park Cancer Institute’s $40 million Clinical Sciences Center.

Academic health centers – institutions that combine patient care, research and doctor training – tend to be the places for newer treatments, state-of-the-art technology, well-funded research initiatives and expertise in specialties, especially those requiring the most complex care.

UB’s medical school does not have a hospital of its own and relies on agreements with other facilities for on-the-job training of new physicians. The new school’s location is a hybrid attempt to create the medical school hospital that UB has lacked.

Facilities at the medical school’s current South Campus location are too small and outdated to accommodate the expected increase in class size from 140 to 180 students per year and the 100 additional faculty members.

The new school will allow educators to more easily adopt the latest trends in training health care providers.

For instance, schools today place more emphasis on student-teacher interaction and computerized simulation centers. The sixth floor will house an expanded simulation center for patient care, surgery and robotic procedures.

Also, as health care moves toward a team-based patient care approach, buildings will need to accommodate the training of doctors and the others with whom they will work, like nurses, pharmacists and physician assistants.

UB’s long-term plan calls for moving other health sciences schools downtown, including pharmacy and nursing.

“Our current facilities evolved from an era when a professor spoke in front of a class in large lecture halls and everyone just listened. Today, the lecture halls are still needed, but training also requires classrooms that can be configured for discussions among small groups,” Cain said.

The first two floors will house educational and community spaces. A second-floor bridge will link to the new John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital and the Conventus medical office building.

The third, fourth and fifth floors will include research facilities that will allow the school to group faculty members by their research focus.

“The idea is to have labs with the flexibility to be configured in different ways so that you can bring together people short term with different expertise but with a common research interest,” Cain said.

The school’s relocation to the Medical Campus helps create a medical corridor that ultimately can become a regional center in more specialties, drawing patients to Buffalo rather than seeing patients travel to Pittsburgh, Cleveland and elsewhere for treatment.

One development can build on another, medical school officials say, to steadily improve medical care here, recruit outstanding physicians and researchers, keep more of the doctors who train at UB, attract more research funding, and spin off medical advances into new biotech companies.

Bringing jobs and boosting the surrounding Fruit Belt and Allentown neighborhoods are also on their minds.

UB President Satish K. Tripathi said the project fits in with UB’s desire to improve its standing as a university, be part of downtown development, and help spur economic development in the city.

“Medical training is tied to the hospitals and health care providers, so it makes sense to be near them,” he said. “We also want to be a health care destination and, with the school’s move, we can develop that kind of environment.”

The design of the new building by HOK attempts to integrate with the neighborhood and respect the city’s architectural past, said Kenneth Drucker, design principal for the project and design director for HOK’s New York City office.

“You are building a community. There is a coming together under one roof of clinical, basic science and educational elements,” he said. “The atrium allows for social collisions among people from different disciplines.”

A big challenge in the design was incorporating the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s Allen Street transit hub into the medical school’s ground floor because the station must remain in operation during construction, he said.

One other design feature is its LEED Gold certification. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a rating system that examines energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, water savings and materials selection. Gold is the second-highest ranking.

On the South Campus, officials plan to remove temporary buildings and revitalize the landscape to recapture the original design of the campus as developed by architect E.B. Green, according to information posted on the university’s website.

Some buildings – such as the Cary-Farber-Sherman Complex, the current home to the medical school – will be demolished, while others will be used by new occupants.