City of Tucson Steady Partner in Construction of New Orthopaedic and Surgical Tower

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On the west end of the Tucson Medical Center campus, a construction worker inevitably brandishes a sign to stop or slow traffic around the skeleton of a new four-story tower.

The project itself, however, is right on pace – and hospital officials credit much of the speed of the project to city workers who have helped usher the project through what can often be a complex permitting process.

 The $110 million project has steered clear of any bureaucratic speed bumps, said Richard Prevallet, TMC’s vice president of facilities and construction.

The project is on a fast-track, with a goal of opening next spring. Since each step is dependent on the previous phase, any delay could hold up the project, Prevallet said.

“The city has been really great to work with,” he said. “All I ever hear is that any time we needed something expedited, the city staff has really helped make it happen.”

Consider this from the program manager, Harvey Mitchell: “They have bent over backward to assist us in keeping the project moving.”

Or this, from architect Thomas Chasty, who said the city’s primary staff member assigned to the project has always “been open to discussing issues and resolving them efficiently.”

Although the city has worked hard over the past few years, and particularly under the leadership of Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, to correct a longstanding perception that it isn’t business-friendly, the collaborative partnership happening on the TMC project didn’t happen in a vacuum.

Prevallet began working with the city back when the project was just conceptual. And ever since, he’s been in close contact with the city’s assigned project manager.

 “It’s important to begin talking early and it’s important to keep that communication open through the project,” Prevallet said, as a tip to other business owners considering expansion.

“I think of the city as a partner in the project, so I keep them in the loop – just as I would any other team member who is working to make sure we’re successful in what we’re trying to do.”

On a recent tour of the project, Mayor Rothschild said that kind of partnership is important to the city as it begins to dig out of economic doldrums. The TMC project has poured millions into the local economy, with almost 80 percent of the contracts awarded to local subcontractors and providing jobs to about 100 workers every day. That number is expected to grow to about 200 as the project nears completion.

Ernie Duarte, the city’s director of development services, agreed that communication is key, since city staff must have a clear understanding of the team’s expectations and timelines. But it also works the other way, he said. “We’re going to help them meet their schedule, but they need to understand what our requirements are going to be, and what they have to deliver on. That way, there’s no mystery or angst about the project.”

To help ensure continuity on big projects, Duarte said the city has been assigning project managers to large, complex undertakings, such as TMC’s, or the new UniSource headquarters downtown. “Having one person assigned to complicated, unique projects really helps streamline and facilitate the process,” he said.

For smaller mom-and-pop projects, the city has been cross-training inspectors in multiple disciplines so the owners aren’t dealing with four different inspectors, he said.

Duarte said he’s seeing more positive response from stakeholders in the community. When he first began to survey customers after taking over the department about nine years ago, he said, “I used to shudder at some of the results I would get.” Those answers, though, helped him pinpoint sticky areas, he said. Now, when he gets the results from that same survey tool, he said. “It really is a 180-degree turnaround.”

The TMC parking garage that supports the new Orthopaedic and Surgical Tower opened in late April. When the 200,000-square foot tower opens next year, it will be the only facility dedicated to orthopaedics in the region.

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Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461
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