It's not expanding out, and it's not expanding beyond its highest point—that was clear from the outset. But when new construction is completed at Piedmont Athens Regional, there will be plenty more of it, with the purpose of better serving an older patient population.
Information about the $171 million expansion was discussed during a meeting of hospital, Athens-Clarke County and neighborhood leaders last month. Piedmont officials said they sought transparency and community input for what will be a years-long process.
The project's two main elements include adding a fourth floor to Prince Tower 2, atop the emergency room, and tearing down Prince Tower 1, also known as the 1919 building, along Talmadge Drive and replacing it with a new, modern building meant to serve as a "gateway" for people driving into town on Prince Avenue.
Construction begins in September, and when it's done, the hospital’s size will increase by almost 230,000 square feet, while retaining its 359-bed capacity. Officials from BDR Partners, the consulting firm handling the renovations, expect the project to be complete by early 2022.
Brad Higdon, a partner at BDR, said the initial construction is the building of Tower 2's fourth floor—a building originally designed to have another floor. Once built, beds and services now in Prince Tower 1 will move there while that building is demolished and rebuilt. The plans call for other renovations on the second floor of Prince Tower 2.
Tower 2 will become a seven-story building, including a basement to connect services with the surrounding buildings. The plan is to make the street level an expanding lobby to better help people find what they need inside the hospital, with the outside area having improved vehicle access. The second level will align with the surgical platform as well as radiology and other services. The third and fourth floors will be for patient beds, while the fifth and sixth floors will house additional support and administrative offices.
Higdon wasn't certain how much the construction will affect King Avenue, the street along Prince Tower 2's east side, but some street closures could occur. The staging for construction equipment and supplies will be at the vacant lot next to the McDonald's on Prince Avenue. Hospital employees park there now, but a surface lot behind the Talmadge House on Prince is their new parking area. Higdon made it "very clear" to construction crews that the streets in neighborhoods around the hospital are not thoroughfares for construction activities.
There is also discussion of matching up Talmadge Drive with Park Avenue to address the awkward intersection now in place, but that conversation will have to involve state transportation officials.
"There are more things we don't know than we do know at this point,” Higdon said, “so it's a great time for the community to get engaged... The facility is trying to exude a clean, modern, health care [look]. It needs to reflect the kind of place people want to come and get their medical care.”
Piedmont Athens Regional officials said they will continue to set up meetings with neighborhood representatives as the project continues.