Could a transformational $600 million renovation at New Jersey Medical School that potentially brings more world-class physician-scientists and biomedical researchers to the city of Newark become a reality? Rutgers University officials announced Wednesday that architects and engineers have completed an essential planning step in the process.
On Wednesday, they unveiled details and images of how they hope to renovate the 47-year-old Medical Sciences Building, the central hub of the NJMS campus.
Rutgers officials said the renovation not only would improve the quality of research and modernize educational space, but it would increase the number of researchers each lab can hold. Such upgrades should help existing faculty attract more research funding while allowing the medical school to bring in more top talent, they said.
The expansion also likely would translate into better medical care for local residents, as many of these new faculty members would perform innovative research in critical specialties and then translate their discoveries into world-class clinical care at University Hospital.
Brian Strom, chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, called it a win-win.
“We are committed to this record investment in Newark because we believe it will create massive returns, not only for Rutgers but also for the city of Newark and the state of New Jersey,” he said.
It’s not a go just yet.
Strom explained the next steps.
“We now have the plans that would make this shovel-ready to move forward,” he told ROI-NJ. “The project will be done in phases. Part of the next phase would be Rutgers funding and debt. We hope to get state funding to contribute to that, but we could not concretely request that until the plans were finalized, so our needs could be quantified.
“Much of the total project costs would come from the additional federal research dollars that our newly recruited researchers would bring into Rutgers, Newark and New Jersey. All of that needs to be arranged over the next year, so we can bring it forward to our board for approval, before launching into the next phase of construction.”
Strom and Rutgers have the full support of University Hospital CEO Ed Jimenez. He gets it.
“Hospital leadership supports the Medical Sciences Building renovation for the same reason Rutgers Health leadership supports the University Hospital reconstruction: Simultaneous investments could create a truly world-class facility for the people of Newark and the entire region,” he said.
A massive renovation has been a goal since a 2017 assessment of Rutgers Health buildings demonstrated the need for major work at the Medical Sciences Building. Particularly vital were upgrades to electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling infrastructure as well as the research laboratories.
Rutgers leaders said they decided to renovate the existing building because its poured concrete structure remains sound, and its many connections to University Hospital allow faculty to move seamlessly between academic and clinical space in ways no other location could match.
Work began last year with essential infrastructure and safety upgrades at the enormous 650,000-square-foot building. Rutgers also commissioned detailed plans for the project’s next phase, which would begin lab renovations and replace building windows, heating, cooling, electricity, ventilation and water.
With the recent completion of those plans, the university can solicit bids on the renovation.
The renovation must take place in carefully planned phases, however, because the building must remain fully operational as renovations take place. Leadership has brought each new phase before the university’s board of governors and will continue to do so as the project progresses.
The board previously approved $27 million for the work thus far and would need to grant another approval for the next phase of work, along with each subsequent phase.
The medical school’s renovation could proceed independently of plans to renovate and expand University Hospital — which is owned fully by the state of New Jersey — but each renovation effort complements the other. Most New Jersey Medical School faculty members provide clinical care in the hospital, and nearly all of the hospital’s doctors are professors at the school.
Renovating either facility will help attract new specialists, school leaders said. Renovating both would multiply the effect and sharply increase the inflow of top specialists treating patients in Newark.
Other improvements at the medical school will complement the Medical Sciences Building renovation. Rutgers has already rebuilt some Newark facilities, such as the Institute for Infectious and Inflammatory Diseases, which have attracted top faculty and tens of millions in research dollars. Rutgers has also received a $20 million federal grant this year that will allow it to expand the capacity of its biocontainment lab.
“We have been expanding and improving our operations in Newark for many years,” NJMS Dean Robert Johnson said. “But a complete renovation of our largest building will take that work to the next level and pay major dividends to the people of both Newark and New Jersey for decades to come.”