By India Ogazi 

The University of Texas Medical Branch is in the midst of the biggest construction project in its 123-year history, to strengthen the institution in the event of another major storm. 

“The construction is about becoming better and more resilient,” said Jim Victor, assistant vice president of design and construction for business operations and facilities at UTMB.

“We’re repairing what was damaged and improving the patient experience.”

If you’re a UTMB patient, student, employee or neighbor, you probably have run into road closures and detours. You might even have felt an occasional vibration while on campus. This is all a result of a $289 million massive district heating and cooling system project set to improve the campus’ storm resilience.

Roads from Fourth to 11th streets have been unearthed to make way for a massive underground tunnel system that will carry an average of 12,000 gallons of hot and cold water per day to the hospitals, clinics, schools and auxiliary buildings.

After Hurricane Ike, the campus’ central and west heating and cooling plants were severely damaged. Backup generators took up to 48 hours to deploy, leaving the hospital without heating and cooling for two days.

The campus had to rent generators to restore power and cooling — two essential resources for operating a hospital.

“We want to be able to come back from the next storm faster and with less dependence on others,” Victor said.

To ensure the campus is able to regain power in minimum time, the central and west plants were repaired and upgraded, and an east plant is being added.

The upgrades replaced a less-efficient underground steam pipe system with a more reliable and elevated platform. The new east plant provides redundancy, should the central or west plants become inoperable, ensuring heating and cooling won’t cease when a storm hits.

So the next time you get frustrated by the road construction, realize it’s making way for a more hurricane-ready campus.

Tiled floors and walls have been installed in both John Sealy Hospital and Jennie Sealy Hospital for quick and easy cleanup in the event of flooding. Flood gates were installed at the Primary Care Pavilion clinic after the building was severely flooded in Ike.

The campus learned an important lesson from Hurricane Ike when critical equipment and services housed on the first floors were lost to floodwaters. Therefore, almost all essential equipment, utilities and services have been moved to the second floor or higher of UTMB buildings.

The relocation of vital services like the blood bank, pharmacy and sterile processing unit, will empower UTMB to rebound more quickly and efficiently from the next storm.