Throwing Fitz

The move to Fitzsimons was supposed to send CU's Health Sciences Center sailing into the 21st century. So why are so many doctors jumping ship?

"You'd never see this at our medical school," says Ridgway, senior associate dean for research at the Health Sciences Center. "This is all new stuff. You can move it around and do what you want with it."

The recently completed, $210 million Research Complex 1 is actually two high-rises at Fitzsimons, linked by bridges on several floors. The twelve-story south tower is already fully occupied, primarily with cancer and biochemistry researchers. The nine-story north tower is filling up fast, as the HSC shifts labs in pediatrics, neuroscience, psychiatry, microbiology and other fields to the new campus. In all, roughly half of the center's research enterprises are being be moved to Research Complex 1; the rest are expected to be moved into the $205 million Research Complex 2, scheduled for completion in late 2007, and the more ethereal Research Complex 3, which as yet has no completion date or identified source of financing.

But never mind about RC 3. Ridgway and Vice Chancellor for Research Sladek can be expansive on the here-and-now virtues of RC 1. Every floor features a dazzling array of space-saving features, modular furniture and new equipment, fully customizable alcoves and the like. The cavernous research spaces themselves embrace an "open lab" concept, literally breaking down the walls so that researchers from different disciplines can interact and compare notes. It's part of the overall intent of the Fitzsimons design, which, according to one brochure, will address the health-care needs of the future by "shifting from program isolation into collaborative, team-driven learning."

New digs: The recently opened Research Complex 1 
at Fitzsimons replaces cramped space at the Health 
Sciences Center's Denver campus.
Anthony Camera
New digs: The recently opened Research Complex 1 at Fitzsimons replaces cramped space at the Health Sciences Center's Denver campus.

From his office on the ninth floor of the north tower, Sladek has a prime view of the construction cranes and the emerging building blocks of CU's own version of Tomorrowland: the $145 million Anschutz Inpatient Pavilion. The $119 million Anschutz Outpatient Pavilion. The $28.7 million Anschutz Cancer Pavilion. The $12 million Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Institute. The $12 million Nighthorse Campbell Native Health Center. And currently under construction, the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes, the new Children's Hospital, the orthodontics center...and, of course, the research buildings still to come.

"When I was being recruited here three years ago, I was chairing a department of neuroscience in Chicago and had done that for twenty years," Sladek says. "There are six medical schools in Chicago, all competing against each other. Any one of them would kill for this opportunity. There's no other institution in the United States that has an opportunity to move five schools, 10,000 people and three hospitals to facilities like these and in the process generate millions in philanthropy. It's a pain when you do it, but this move is occurring in such a smooth way; it's almost seamless. It's worth the price, in my opinion."

Not everyone agrees. Among HSC researchers, the most persistent complaint about the move is what they're going to wind up getting for the money diverted from their programs. Three years ago, Chancellor Shore vowed that the new buildings at Fitzsimons would double the center's available research space. But many researchers and division chiefs say they expect to end up with roughly the same amount of space they already have.

"This is a lateral move," says Curt Freed, head of the division of clinical pharmacology. "The space will be uniform and high-quality, but the actual square footage isn't changing much."

Sladek and Ridgway say that high-quality space is nothing to sneeze at, particularly in contrast to the cramped and outmoded research warrens at the Denver campus. And they insist that over time, the new enterprise will offer plenty of space for programs to grow. The entire Denver campus has around 344,000 assignable square feet (asf) of research space; the 385,000 asf at RC 1 exceeds that, and RC 2 will add another 260,000 asf in four years. (RC 3, if and when it's built, is projected to supply another 188,000 asf.) The space is being assigned on the basis of divisions' productivity and growth in research grants, a bottom-line approach that has resulted in the move being a "lateral" one for many divisions.

"You have to pay for your space with your ICR," Sladek explains. "That's never been in place in this institution before. Otherwise, you end up with sedentary departments and faculty who may have lost their research funding years ago, and because they're grand professors and we love them all, we don't want to take their space away -- that kind of thing."

But tapping into ICR funds for costly new digs that amount to a lateral move doesn't make good business sense, the critics counter. "It's obviously a very grand building complex," Freed says. "In the long run, it will be a good thing for the campus. But I am concerned about the cost. I think it's unlikely there will be an expansion of faculty in the next decade."

Diverting ICR funds to pay for the Fitzsimons buildings had a profound effect on Freed's division. "We immediately laid off an administrator," he says. "There was less money for programs, for recruitment. There was a direct effect on everyone. And that's true elsewhere. The last several years, there's been a major emphasis on building Fitzsimons and trouble recruiting outstanding faculty to chair departments and head programs."

In response to Fitzsimons naysayers, Dean Krugman has pointed out that the School of Medicine's research grants have continued to show healthy growth throughout the transition period, from $123 million annually in 1996 to $209 million in 2002. Ridgway adds that the diversion of a percentage of ICR funds has been made up by the overall growth in research grants. "The amount being returned to the faculty this year is back to where it was four years ago," he says. "There was a significant dip, but it's coming back."

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