January 6, 2016
By Robert Farrow, Principal, HKS, Inc.

Every design project is, at heart, a chemistry project. Success depends on the essential chemistry between team members. 

To ensure the owner, architect, general contractor and community at large had the strong bonds needed to plan a series of new facilities for Erlanger Health’s medical campus in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the health system led a unique selection process that engaged the entire city. This process resulted in a design and construction team designed to work well together; it also enhanced community support — including philanthropic support — for the project. 

I recently spoke on this topic at the Healthcare Facilities Symposium and Expo with Bruce Komiske, new hospital design and construction, Erlanger Medical Center; Kevin Kuntz, principal, McCarthy Building Companies, Inc.; and Joe Winick, vice president strategic planning, Erlanger Medical Center. 

Erlanger interviewed 25 leading architecture firms and construction management firms, selecting two pairs for an intensive monthlong period of evaluation that culminated in citywide presentations at the Chattanooga IMAX theater. As one of the final two teams, HKS and McCarthy Building Companies Inc. worked together to develop a plan for the health campus, including what’s been termed “the most important building in Chattanooga” — a replacement children’s hospital. To honor the city of Chattanooga and the firms’ dedication to being a catalyst for positive change in the community, HKS and McCarthy named their team Chatalyst. 

The Chatalyst team defined their group’s key traits as: collaborative, relationship-focused, results-oriented, motivated and passionate. The team hosted 10 Erlanger staff members at the HKS and McCarthy offices for two days in order to get to know the health system in depth. As the seventh-largest public health system in the U.S., Erlanger serves as a safety net hospital for four states. The system’s five hospital facilities, which include the existing children’s hospital and three satellite hospitals, have a total of 813 beds. Erlanger is a partner with the University of the Tennessee College of Medicine Chattanooga, with 175 residents, 12 residencies and 10 fellowships. The system sees 500,000 patients per year, runs the fourth largest stroke program in the country, and employs 175 physicians and 800 staff members at 45 locations. 

In addition to learning about Erlanger, the Chatalyst team members spent considerable time in Chattanooga falling in love with the area. They held a charrette kickoff party at the home of one of the team leaders to encourage interaction among team members, demonstrate the team’s ability to listen to health system and community needs, and help everyone involved feel comfortable with one another. The team also created an electronic newsletter, the Chatterlist, focused on touch points important to the client. After Chatalyst presented its work to the community as a whole at the Chattanooga IMAX theater, the team was selected for the project by a unanimous decision. 

Today, HKS, McCarthy and Erlanger are engaged in a rebirth of the health system’s entire Chattanooga medical campus, which will occur in multiple phases beginning with the children’s hospital. Local history and community partnerships are inspiring the design. By creating a wellness district, the team plans to revitalize this area of the city — working together to serve as a catalyst for even greater change.