Ten years ago, John Wokasien was a patient at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, battling stage 4 laryngeal cancer.
The battery of chemotherapy and radiation treatments he underwent, along with a series of surgeries, likely saved his life.
So after he retired as director of the construction services group in Buffalo for URS Corp., the world’s largest engineering and construction firm, he decided to give back to the hospital – also a former client – by using his civil engineering skills.
And on Friday, as Roswell Park topped off the steel structure of its new Clinical Sciences Center, he was able to take extra pride in his role as senior construction manager, overseeing the $50.5 million project that represents the first clinical expansion to Roswell Park since 1998.
“I’m here to help out Roswell any way I can,” Wokasien said. “I can’t give back what the hospital and staff gave to me, but if I can help out, save a few bucks on construction, keep the contractors honest, I’m happy to lend some expertise.”
Wokasien and project manager Anthony Putrelo, assistant vice president of facilities management for Roswell Park, oversee a team of six prime contractors and dozens of construction workers who labored through the winter to keep the two-phase project moving toward completion in early 2016.
The hospital broke ground in April 2013 to clear the space, and construction work began in October, with the excavation of 4,500 yards of soil. Since then, the towering steel structure with a zigzag facade has risen quickly, with support from one of the four tower cranes now dotting Buffalo’s downtown skyline. And despite bitter cold and a snowy winter, the work by Rochester-based LeChase Construction is a week ahead of schedule, officials said.
About 50 workers are currently on site, with representation from 11 minority- and women-owned subcontractors. More than 1,650 tons of steel are in place, and officials hope to have the floors poured by the end of June, using 760 cubic yards of concrete. In all, 200 construction jobs are expected.
“The steelworkers have been great. They worked through tough conditions this winter,” Putrelo said. “The cold didn’t seem to bother these guys at all. It’s the wind when they had to stop. The times that delayed us the most was the spring, when it was raining hard. But those guys are pretty tough.”
Sandwiched into a very narrow space next to the main hospital building at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Carlton Street, the 11-story, 142,000-square-foot new facility will house a combination of clinical-care and medical offices to accommodate growth in demand for research and services.
Designed by FXFowle Architects, the tower features floorplates of varying sizes, with a jagged shape along Michigan Avenue that gives it a unique scissorlike appearance.
“It was really thought-out by the architects to make this building spectacular,” Putrelo said. “If you have a long façade, it would just look plain and dull.”
That also allows for two walk-out terraces on the ninth and 10th floors, as well as bump-outs and bends to cast shadows on the street. The upper floors, which are bigger, will cantilever over the roof of the adjacent Grace Cancer Drug Center.
The building will feature full-length glass windows with dramatic views of the Buffalo skyline and Lake Erie, with some Boston Valley terra-cotta “baguette” features adorning the facade.
A two-level atrium will take up part of the first two levels. And it will include enclosed walkways directly into the main hospital on the first three levels, as well as a separate street entrance on Carlton.
The project is funded by $32.5 million in philanthropic donations, including $1 million gifts from major hospital supporters known as the Circle of Ten, as well as $6.3 million raised from the sale of federal New Markets Tax Credits.
Plans call for the “core and shell” of the building – the steel frame, cement floors, mechanicals, three elevators and outer walls – to be completed by yearend, followed by the build-out of the lobby and clinical space, and then the office space buildout.
The ground floor will include the lobby, conference or resource rooms; the first and second floors will house the expanded breast center and mammography screening center, with a special separate elevator between them for privacy; the fourth and fifth floors will house an expanded chemotherapy infusion clinic. The third floor will house offices for anesthesiologists, who will have direct access through the walkway into the operating rooms in the main hospital. Other offices will fill floors six through 10.