Working for the MOB

Although they are rare, and thus easy to ignore, earthquakes are a way of life in California. I’ve been through a number of them in my lifetime so far, with the first real memory of one being the 1971 Sylmar quake. I’m sure that I experienced quakes before that one, but it sticks out in my mind because it tossed me out of bed (it occurred at 6:01 a.m., and measured 6.6 on the Richter scale) and caused significant damage throughout Southern California, where I lived at the time. Two major freeway interchanges collapsed, two hospitals were destroyed, a dam at a major reservoir in the San Fernando Valley almost failed, and 64 people were killed.

Of the people who died in that quake, the majority—47—were in the San Fernando Veterans Administration Hospital when it collapsed. Three more died when a brand-new wing of Sylmar’s Olive View Hospital came down. You might think that fifty people dying from the collapse of two hospitals would spur California’s government to action, but it wasn’t until after two subsequent quakes—the 1989 Loma Prieta quake (magnitude 6.9) and the 1994 Northridge quake (magnitude 6.7) that SB 1953 was finally enacted. SB 1953 placed newer, more stringent requirements on hospitals regarding their ability to withstand a major earthquake. It specified that hospitals that didn’t meet the standards be retrofitted, replaced, or removed from acute care services by a specified date (originally January 1, 2008, but delays were granted for special circumstances, and subsequent legislative extensions pushed the dates out even further).

Redwood City’s two major hospitals—Sequoia Hospital on Alameda de Las Pulgas, and Kaiser Permanente’s hospital on Veterans Boulevard—were both determined to be problematic. In both cases it was decided that the best course of action would be to build an entirely new hospital on their existing properties. Both Sequoia and Kaiser completed their new hospitals in 2014, just before the January 1, 2015 deadline.

In Sequoia’s case, the project was largely limited to the construction of a new parking garage and the construction of a new hospital “pavilion.” The Kaiser Foundation, on the other hand, elected to not only build an entirely new hospital building, they also chose to make the project the first in a series that should one day see the entire campus rebuilt. Last Monday, February 6, Redwood City’s Planning Commission approved the second part of Kaiser’s master plan, which will replace a handful of existing buildings with the relatively large “Medical Office Building #2,” more commonly referred to as “MOB 2.”

The MOB 2 project itself is organized into two phases. First, three existing (but empty) buildings will be torn down and the MOB 2 building will be constructed in their place. Then, in the second phase, the original hospital building and the one-story Oak building will be torn down and replaced with a surface parking lot and some open space that will include both a children’s playground and room for a farmer’s market.

Kaiser’s original Redwood City hospital building, shown above, was constructed in 1968. It is 8 stories tall and had 149 beds. Since the new hospital was built the old one has been used for non-critical needs; today only about one-quarter of the building is occupied. The new hospital, which sits adjacent to the old, is larger in volume but still has 149 beds. It has a more modern design, and of course should be significantly safer in the event of a seismic emergency.

Over a year ago I saw construction fencing go up around a part of the campus at the corner of Marshall Street and Maple Street. Two smaller MOBs that once stood along Marshall Street were then torn down. Although the construction fencing remains, there has been little activity within the fenced-in area since then. Now, though, with the approval from the Planning Commission, that should change.

First off, the remaining buildings on this part of Kaiser’s campus will be demolished. There are three: the MRI building, the Laurel building, and a long, narrow building that is dubbed the “Service building.” Although those buildings still stand today, they give the appearance of having been long abandoned. Here, for instance, is what the Laurel building looks like these days:

The MRI building is a squat single-story concrete structure that presumably once held the MRI equipment. And the Service building looks to be some sort of utility plant, which I’m guessing was superseded when the new hospital building was built: the new hospital is served by a new “Central Utility Plant” that reminds me a lot of an Apple Store:

Once those three old buildings are cleared away, workers will then dig the three-level subterranean garage that will sit beneath the MOB 2 building. Entrance to this 432-car garage will be from “Marshall Court,” a short dead-end street that currently runs from Marshall Street to the hospital’s main entrance. Ultimately a second road will be built that will connect Maple Street to Marshall Court, providing easy access to the underground garage from either Maple or Marshall.

With the garage complete, the contractors will construct the MOB 2 building on top. This four-story building will have two wings that angle away from one another, with the main entrance between the arms of the building at their widest point and a secondary entrance at the corner of Marshall and Maple. Here is a view of the building as it is anticipated to look from the corner of Marshall and Maple, showing that secondary entrance (all of these renderings are from the preliminary designs that the architect submitted to the city):

And here is a view from Maple Street, midway between Marshall and Veterans Boulevard:

The building’s main entrance will be into the two-story glass section you can just see between the building’s two wings. Above the entry a canopy will extend over the designated patient drop-off point.

Finally, here is an overhead rendering that not only shows the overall shape of the building, but its position relative to the new hospital building. Note that this rendering shows what the property will look like after the second phase is completed, with the new surface parking lot and landscaped open space replacing the old hospital tower and the Oak building.

In the above rendering, those yellow trees line what will eventually be the on-campus road that connects Maple Street with Marshall Court. But all of the trees mask much more than just that road. Here is a plan view of this portion of the project:

[click for a larger version]

This plan is oriented differently from the previous rendering. Here, Maple Street runs from top to bottom towards the right side of the plan, while Marshall Court enters the plan from the bottom of the rendering close to the left side. The new cross-campus road runs from left-to-right straight through the middle.

In this rendering there are a number of interesting things to note. First of all, there will be an 85-space surface parking lot where the old hospital stands today. And between the parking lot and the MOB 2 building there is a large open space that not only includes the cross-campus road, it also contains a 1000-square-foot children’s playground, an urban garden, and, along the diagonal walkway that runs between the new hospital and the MOB 2 building, space for a farmer’s market.

In an effort to alleviate some of the issues that today plague this section of Maple Street, the traffic engineers are recommending some changes. In place of the single mid-block crosswalk that today connects the main campus to Kaiser’s parking garage and lot across Maple, there will be two, and both will be equipped with flashing pedestrian beacons. (The traffic signal that is there today will be removed in favor of those beacons.) At the intersection of Maple and Marshall all four corners will gain bulb-outs, making pedestrians more visible to approaching vehicles while lessening the amount of time they will be in the street. And Maple will be re-striped so that, for the most part, there will be just one through traffic lane in each direction, along with a central turning lane to serve cars turning into the main campus or onto Veterans, and bike lanes.

Of course, simply by adding 432 parking spaces beneath MOB 2 and 85 in the surface lot in front of that building, a lot fewer people will need to park in Kaiser’s multi-story parking structure across the street and thus there should be a lot fewer pedestrians crossing Maple.

Timing wise, the schedule for this project—which of course needs to be taken with a grain of salt—looks something like this:

  • Demolish existing buildings: now through April
  • Construct the underground garage: April 2018-April 2019
  • Construct MOB 2: May 2019-Feb 2021
  • Demolish the old hospital tower and the Oak MOB: Mar 2021-Mar 2022
  • Build out the open space and parking lot: Apr 2022-Dec 2022

Thus, it’ll be quite a while before we have children playing in that new playground. Personally, I’ll be interested to watch the deconstruction of the old hospital building. Apparently it has to be done very carefully, from the top down. And because the old hospital is still (partly) occupied, it cannot come down until MOB 2 is complete and everyone has moved in. The Oak building, however, which today sits along Maple Street right about where the end of the newly planned surface parking lot will go, will apparently be torn down sooner so the space can be used for staging during project construction.

Kaiser Permanente is a very important Redwood City asset, so I’m glad to see that Kaiser is willing to put so much effort into maintaining it. Kaiser is doing an amazing job of replacing their existing medical campus piece-by-piece, on-site, all without causing major disruptions to their existing operations. This has to be a very complex and tricky process, but I’m glad they are making the effort: we clearly can’t afford to be without Kaiser Hospital’s services for too long.

When (not if) we experience another major earthquake, I’m very glad that Redwood City’s two main hospitals will likely remain able to serve those in need. And once MOB 2 is complete, we’ll have yet another major medical facility that hopefully will be able to handle the next big one. I pray that we’ll never again see loss of life on the scale of what resulted from the Sylmar quake, and applaud all efforts to protect both lives and property from such an event. Focusing on the positive, I’m delighted that we’re getting a new state-of-the art medical building, a new public playground, and a new farmers market site. Some may lament the loss of the old hospital—a lot of good memories came out of that building—but I think that everyone will agree that the net result will be well worth it, and that Kaiser should be applauded for “working for the MOB”!

While I’m on the subject of earthquakes, it really is a matter of when, not if, we experience the next big one. While we all can hope that it won’t occur while we are living here, we cannot count on that. Thus, we need to do all we can to minimize the damage such a quake might cause. And allow me to remind you to put together an earthquake kit if you don’t already have one, or to consider updating it if you do. Earthquake kits are one of those “out of sight, out of mind” things that you’ll really be glad you have when a major earthquake hits. [As I just finished this last sentence, I got an alert that Southern Mexico just experienced a (preliminary magnitude) 7.5 quake. Yikes!]

5 thoughts on “Working for the MOB

    • I agree. Some of the buildings are fitting in nicely with the downtown aesthetic. Developers seem to be making a greater effort to have their buildings fit in after the City Council and the Planning Commission made disparaging remarks about the design of the Box buildings, in particular. I know that some still don’t like some of the new buildings that are going up (601 Marshall, 815 Hamilton, etc.) but the architects clearly have tried to incorporate elements from the historic Courthouse and from other nearby buildings in an effort to make their creations better fit in, and those efforts do seem to be paying off.

  1. Have you run across any references to how the new developments in Redwood City might be designed to adjust to rising sea levels? Kaiser’s location used to be part of San Francisco Bay (according to a c. 1850 map), and I wonder if the bay might try to reclaim it at some point. Thanks for another interesting update on the ongoing changes!

    • Some. Mostly the stuff being built or proposed east of Highway 101, but there actually was some mention of dealing with seawater in the design of the Kaiser MOB 2 project, as I recall. I’d have to review the video of the meeting in which the project was presented to get the exact wording. But developers are definitely thinking about it. Whether or not they are doing enough to prepare, though, that could be debated…

  2. Greg,

    I was also jolted out of bed by the Sylmar quake. First thing that popped into my head when I started your article.

    Love the weekly posts.


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