Barnes-Jewish finalizes plans for campus revamp

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

A piece of local Jewish history is slated to pass into the ages this fall as Barnes-Jewish Hospital finalizes plans for a revamp that will take down the building that’s been part of its home since it moved to its present location abutting Forest Park.

We’ve served the community well for the past hundred years,” said hospital president Rich Liekweg, “and it is projects like this that show that we will continue to provide that same level of care or even more enhanced care for the next hundred years.”


The move is part of an extensive construction project that will take up the better part of the next decade and transform major sections of the hospital in an effort to modernize the facility, add more private rooms, increase square footage and expand various medical programs.

It also will take down five buildings, including the Steinberg Building, Jewish Hospital’s historic original structure which dates to the 1920s. Other structures falling will include the Kingshighway and Yalem buildings as well as the old nursing school and Queeny Tower. The Shoenberg Pavillion will remain.

Pending approval by the city, Phase I of the project is expected to get underway by autumn. Covering the north end of the campus, it will result in the construction of a new edifice that will expand the obstetrics, neonatal nurseries and the cancer program as well as give increased functionality to Children’s Hospital.

“We’re going to make all these spaces contiguous so we have greater flexibility so that in future if we see a greater demand for cancer programs than we see in our OB program, we can use the space interchangeably,” said Liekweg.

The changes will also allow the obstetrics program to co-locate with pediatrics, creating a women’s and infants section. 

Liekweg noted that the new construction was necessary to keep up with changes in medical technology.

“Our buildings are of many different vintages,” he said. “Some are many years old and don’t support the changes in health care. We have advances in technology, in how we manage infections and infection control. 

Privacy is another issue. Liekweg said that only about 30 percent of the hospital’s 1,300 adult beds are private. The goal is to push that number to 70-80 percent.

Construction for Phase I, which will result in a net increase of nearly a quarter million square feet, is expected to run through 2017 or 2018.

Phase II, which will focus on the south end of the campus, is likely to see the Queeny Tower razed in favor of a new facility which will house the heart and vascular, neurosciences and transplant programs. The hospital’s trauma and intensive care wards will see enhancements as well. 

There is no word on exact square footage for the second leg of the project but hospital administration is aiming to have it done by 2021. 

Liekweg said there will be no specific funding campaign for the improvements which will be paid for from the hospital’s own cash.

“We will however have tremendous naming opportunities for the donor community,” he said. “But we’re really looking for philanthropy to support the programs that will be located in these buildings but the brick and mortar we’ll fund using our own capital reserves.”

Total dollar estimates for the work were not available.

Liekweg said the hospital has been in communication with the Jewish Federation to keep the agency updated on the plan.

“We hope this is celebrated…by the community as looking to the future,” he said.

Liekweg said disruptions would be minimized as much as possible for staff, visitors and patients as work progressed, just as it has with other recent Barnes-Jewish construction efforts.

“This isn’t foreign territory for us,” he said. “The magnitude of this will obviously be much larger.”

Jewish Hospital was founded just after the turn of the century in response to continuing Jewish immigration from Europe. Originally housed on Delmar, the 30-bed facility was quickly overwhelmed. In 1926, it began operations at its present site.

Eventually ranking among the area’s leading hospitals, it was among the first to use penicillin during WWII and would perform Missouri’s first in vitro fertilization in the 1980s.

The following decade, the institution merged with Barnes Hospital. According to 2011 statistics, Barnes-Jewish employs more than 9,700 people with more than 1,700 attending physicians. Last year, U.S. News and World Report listed the facility sixth on its list of the nation’s Best Hospitals Honor Roll.

Liekweg said a gathering will be scheduled before demolition begins to mark the passing of the old building.

“There will be opportunities as we finalize the design, spaces in the buildings, where we’ll reflect and celebrate our heritage,” he said. “We’ve got lots of artifacts, mementos, plaques that sit in the existing buildings today that we’re preserving as we move into our new space.”

He said it was important to preserve the hospital’s heritage.

“It makes us who we are today,” he said. “We stand on some pretty broad shoulders. As we look to replace and add buildings…we will continue to respect and promote for the current and future generations the past of which we are a product.”