With four days left to hammer out the New York state budget, officials are pushing the Legislature to expand the city’s authorization to use design-build as a way to complete construction projects faster and cheaper.
One of the projects that could benefit from this authorization, Queens lawmakers argue, is the expansion of Elmhurst Hospital‘s emergency department. Through this process, designers and construction teams work together within one contract to deliver the project.
The hospital, part of the NYC Health + Hospitals network, is a Level 1 trauma center and sees approximately 1,200 trauma admissions per year. Emergency department visits to Elmhurst Hospital increased more than 38 percent from 2009 through 2014, according to city data.
The expanded emergency department will be two stories and include an additional 10,000 square feet. The new building will provide a host of services such as a stroke center with an advanced medical imaging unit, 19 additional surgical beds, a nine-bed Holding and Observation Unit, a psychiatric Emergency Room with nine beds, five additional isolation rooms and centralized radiology services.
While the state has used the design-build method to construct the Tappan Zee and Kosciuszko Bridges, Mayor Bill de Blasio has asked that the city be able to use this process on its own projects. The Assembly has included authorization for the city to use design-build for this project in its budget but the Senate has not.
Both de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are vocal supporters of design-build and a push was made to persuade state lawmakers to authorize the design-build approach for eight city projects last year, but it was not successful. A bill to authorize these contracts in the city passed the Assembly last year but failed in the Republican-controlled state Senate.
Democratic Senator Jose Peralta, who represents Elmhurst and is a member of the Independent Democratic Conference (some people argue that the conference enables Republicans in the state Senate), wrote a letter to Majority Leader John Flanagan and IDC leader Jeff Klein on March 22 asking them to include design-build for the hospital in the 2018-2019 budget.
“I respectfully request your consideration of design-build authorization for NYC Health & Hospitals, particularly as it relates to performing much-needed renovations at Elmhurst Hospital,” he wrote in the letter. “Elmhurst provides critical health services to my constituents and is currently the busiest trauma center in the city of New York. Design-build authorization is necessary given the urgency of completing this project.”
Projects completed in the state with the design-build process are constructed on average 18 months earlier than those using traditional contracts, according to the city. It also saves money. If constructed using the design-build process, the Elmhurst Hospital expansion would see savings of about $1.7 million.
Assemblyman Michael DenDekker, who represents neighboring East Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, said he is hopeful that there is enough support for design-build for the hospital.
“[Assemblyman] Jeff Aubrey and I have been diligently working to make sure the Elmhurst General Hospital project will be included in the budget,” he said. “As of now, we think we are being very successful and we think we’ll have a positive outcome.”
He said the hospital is a “very important emergency institution to the whole area” as it serves a large portion of western Queens.
Though legislators originally wanted to include design-build in the budget last year with the intent to allow city agencies to use the process for a variety of projects, Republicans were “adamantly against” this, he said. Instead, Queens lawmakers this year have included specific projects in the budget that they would like to see constructed using design-build.
“It looks positive now, we will actually be having more conferences today and tomorrow,” he said. “We’re hoping that everything stays the same. I would be extremely surprised if the Senate took it out or said they would not vote for this entire budget. I think there would be significant issues from the 18 legislators of Queens in general [if specific design-build projects were removed from the budget].”
Israel Rocha, the CEO of Elmhurst Hospital, said he is “hopeful” that the project will be included in the bill.
“We know that it’s in at least the budget bill in the Assembly,” he said. “A lot of the local Senate delegation is trying to work with us to get it in the final draft of the bill.”
In addition to saving between $1 million to $2 million, Rocha said the design-build process would allow Queens residents to get state-of-the-art care faster.
“Patients in Queens would be able to get enhanced emergency services probably about a year sooner,” he said. “It clears up a lot of the contract nuances. A year is a lot of time.”
If the project stays in the budget, the expansion would be completed by 2020. If not, Rocha said designers estimate that the project will be finished closer to the end of 2021.