VCU Health plans massive redevelopment of campus

Virginia Commonwealth University and its health system are planning a significant reimagining of the health campus in downtown Richmond, a preliminary plan that could take more than 15 years to implement and likely cost north of $1 billion.

The vision includes a new dental school, an expansion to the inpatient hospital, more space for research, and removal of the 83-year-old West Hospital.

With few formal plans made, the vision is considered a “roadmap,” and it’s possible not all projects will come to life, said Meredith Weiss, VCU’s vice president for administration and interim chief financial officer. She presented the plan to VCU’s board of visitors on Thursday.

VCU and VCU Health, which are separate, overlapping entities controlled by the state, will spend the summer listening to public feedback and will move forward in the fall.

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VCU Health has numerous plans for the near-term, which could be three to 15 years, said Meredith Weiss, VCU’s vice president for administration and interim chief financial officer.

Virginia Commonwealth University

The reason for the redevelopment is the significant demand for VCU Health’s services, Weiss said. The inpatient hospital, which has more than 600 adult inpatient beds, frequently operates at near capacity, which VCU Health aims to increase. It’s unclear how many beds the medical center would add after all the additions were made.

The health system wants to eliminate semiprivate rooms in the main hospital and increase parking at a patient’s point of care.

From an academic perspective, the university has experienced significant growth in its health science programs, including nursing and health professions — which include physical therapy, anesthesia and radiation sciences — and those departments are expected to keep growing.

The university’s research enterprise, which has a large health component, also needs more space. VCU cracked the top 50 public colleges for research funding, and many of its labs are beyond their useful lives, Weiss said.

Now, as the university and health system grows, an improved campus can make an impact with students and recruit the best staff, Weiss said.

“We’re at an inflection point as an institution,” he added.

Funding would come from the state, the university and the health system. The state generally pays for academic buildings, such as the dentistry school. For research buildings, the state might cover half, with the university footing the bill on the other half. The health system would cover the costs of patient-focused buildings.

The university’s board of visitors would have to approve buildings with academic components, and the health system’s board of directors would green-light medical buildings.

The plans do not show an expansion of the campus. Instead, they give a glimpse of a significant redevelopment of health system parcels. Not mentioned is the plot of the Public Safety Building, which VCU Health failed to redevelop and which the health system is currently paying for the building’s demolition. Last month, VCU President Michael Rao said the parcel would always be a plot of interest because of its proximity to the health system.


VCU Health’s West Hospital, left, and the Nursing Education Building, right, are seen in 2004. The West Hospital opened in 1941.


Tearing down the West Hospital has been a point of discussion for years. The 17-story, art deco building opened in 1941 and has become outdated, requiring $150 million in deferred maintenance, Weiss said.

A university master plan in 2004 called for its demolition, but preservationists objected. In 2017, it was again slated for removal, but it got a reprieve. At the site of the West Hospital, the Virginia convention ratified the US Constitution on June 25, 1788.

It is not located in one of Richmond’s Old and Historic Districts, meaning it is not protected from demolition. And the state does not consider it a landmark.

But it is architecturally significant to some, Weiss said, and VCU Health will ask the state for approval before removing the building.

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The health system’s top capital priorities are a new dentistry school and an expansion to the inpatient hospital.

Virginia Commonwealth University

There are two top priorities for construction: a dentistry school and an inpatient expansion. Lower priorities could be realized in the next three to 15 years, Weiss said. Priorities at the bottom of the list would take even longer.

• Dentistry school: The health system’s top priority, VCU plans to build a new dentistry school as part of the Larrick Student Center on Turpin Street, overlooking Interstate 95. The new construction could go on the back side of the current building, where the pool and gym are.

The General Assembly indicated it would provide funds for VCU to begin designing the facility, but the directive awaits final approval from Gov. Glenn Youngkin as part of the entire state budget.

• Inpatient expansion: The health system wants to expand the inpatient hospital at North 11th and East Marshall streets at the sites of the current Ambulatory Care Center and Nelson Clinic. Much of the patient care that occurred here was moved to the Adult Outpatient Pavilion. Preplanning has begun. The remaining priorities are considered “potential near term” and beyond.

• Student housing: VCU wants to create more housing at the site of the vacant Cabaniss Hall at North Eighth and Jackson streets. VCU could replace or renovate the building, depending on which is more affordable, and the building could house undergraduate or graduate students.

• Interdisciplinary building: At the site of the current dental school on East Leigh Street, between North 11th and North 12th streets, VCU Health would build a multiuse facility. The schematic shows a building of roughly 15 stories.

• Logistics center: VCU Health would erect a logistics center with a mixed-use building above it on East Leigh Street between North 12th Street and the Duval Street Connector. Currently, there are the Strauss Research Laboratory, the visitor parking deck and the health system library. The mixed-use building could house numerous health system activities, Weiss said.

• Second inpatient expansion: VCU Health would add more inpatient beds at North 11th and East Clay streets at the site of the pharmacy school, which could relocate into the interdisciplinary building or another facility.

• Research, classroom and office building: VCU would build new space for research and other needs on East Broad Street at the site of the current West Hospital at 1200 E. Broad St.

• Another inpatient expansion: VCU Health could add more inpatient beds at the site of the North Hospital at 1300 E. Marshall St., a project that would not have been realized for several years.

• Additional inpatient expansion: VCU could replace Sanger Hall at 1101 E. Marshall St. These plans are in preliminary stages, and the final two inpatient expansion plans ultimately might not occur, Weiss said.

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