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Bay Medical Center Patient Tower

Aging facility overcomes obstacles, achieves inspiring standard of excellence in design

...simple but sophisticated. ...a good level of complexity.

Over the years, Bay Medical Center in Panama City, Florida, has built a solid reputation for providing quality healthcare to the Florida Panhandle. As a result, heightened use of the facility had begun to strain existing infrastructure. The hospital turned to GS&P for a campus master plan and a new patient tower design but needed the team to handle the project in an all-inclusive fashion. In the process, GS&P forged a unique bond with the owner and surrounding community, and subsequently helped the hospital shave millions from the initial project cost. Now complete, the new patient tower is intimately connected with the beachside community through both design and purpose.



The GS&P team is very passionate about the Bay Medical Center project. Why is that?

Eddy Alonso: The client asked us to create a new Bay Medical Center, providing a state-of-the-art facility and an infrastructure that would bring the hospital environment up to the same standard of excellence its medical staff provides. We were tasked with designing the patient tower in house from start to finish, which meant everything from the campus master plan to turning over the keys. Depending on the project, we might work with a completed master plan and proceed from there, or we might team with an engineering firm or other outside consultants to work on the project. On this particular project, however, we provided everything in house.

Mitch Whiteside: We’re excited about what we accomplished. This project was not only unique in its design, but in how all the pieces came together as one. Our team was intimately involved in every aspect of this project from day one, which is what we teach, speak and write about, and it’s what we try to get all of our clients to do. Had every team member not come together as one, including the tremendous relationships built with the client and Hoar Construction, we could not have produced such a successful result.

Why was such an unprecedented level of involvement necessary?

Eddy: GS&P had to overcome the negative experience that Bay had on an earlier project that did not go smoothly. The stress and difficulty of the project, during both design and construction, was still fresh in their minds. We knew we needed to improve upon the experience. Part of our strategy was to keep everything in house for better control and coordination, but we also made a point to emphasize working more closely with the owner and Hoar Construction throughout the process. There was a tremendous level of trust and compromise that had to form between all partners because of the budget. The dollars allotted to the project were constraining, and we had to be very creative to come up with solutions that would meet their clinical needs and still hit all the financial objectives.

Mitch: When we priced the project the first time, the estimated cost was $67–$68 million. They came back and said, “We want all of this, but the absolute maximum we can spend is $60 million.” So that became our challenge, and we didn’t spend a penny over $60 million. We worked hard to get $68 million worth of efficient design and functionality into the building, and the final cost was $59,170,270, almost $1 million less than the amended budget. “We can’t do it” was never the answer. It was, “Yes we can,” or “We’ll figure it out as a team.”

What prompted the hospital to consider the patient tower project?

Eddy: The medical center had made tremendous strides in improving its level of care, but the one thing still lacking was the facility. As it grew, the infrastructure became increasingly taxed, and the room sizes and general layout were very poor. Specifically, they had a very high concentration of semi-private rooms, which are no longer acceptable in modern healthcare construction. The existing private rooms were equally substandard, both in size and amenities. The windows were often too small to provide ample daylight into the rooms; and the electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems were reaching the end of their capacity to keep up with the demand.

How did the team’s intimate involvement with the project and community help with the design of the facility?

Mitch: We knew from the beginning that we wanted the design to connect with the community in a special way.

Dexter Carty: Yes, and much of that is found in a nautical theme reflected through the entire hospital. Growing up in Anguilla, I was fortunate enough to spend a great deal of time with my dad, who is a fisherman, and I pulled from those experiences during the project’s design.

Mitch: The hospital quickly jumped on board with the idea, since the nautical theme connects perfectly with the community. It’s seen all along the coast that they serve, and the theme tied everything neatly together from the physical building to the foundation’s fundraising and marketing efforts over the last five years. Their theme was that Bay Medical Center is reaching for new horizons, sailing into the future by improving the quality of healthcare for Bay County and surrounding areas.

How, specifically, was the nautical theme incorporated into the hospital’s design?

Dexter: As you walk through the hospital you’ll see sailboat imagery throughout. Not literal sailboats, themselves, but images of the rigging, the sail and the mast.

Eddy: If you’ve grown up around sailing or the bay, you know what you’re looking at, because it captures your childhood memories or your experiences as a sailor. Those kinds of images are unique to the people that live there.

For example, when we developed the lobby wall as a sculptural piece in a very tall space, we wanted to capture sailing images in abstract form. The shape of the wall and how it’s segmented, including the reveals that were incorporated into it, were inspired by a photograph of a sailboat regatta. For the monumental stairs, we incorporated what you would typically see on a sailboat, including cabling and stainless steel railings. We wanted to maximize the space in the patient rooms and designed it as a boat cabin, purposely recessing as much as we could into the walls.

Dexter: From a psychological standpoint, if you’ve ever been sailing you know that one of the big feelings you experience is a release from stress and anxiety. We tried to carry that emotion throughout this hospital, from the main entrance through the cafeteria to the patient rooms and down the hallways. And I think we did a great job of using the design to reduce anxiety for both patients and family members.

Does the building structure also connect to the nautical theme?

Eddy: The idea behind the façade and the curvature of the building was taken directly from the sailboat inspiration. The intent was that the upper floors would resemble the sail of the boat, the bottom would be the hull and the ground would be the water line. The third floor, being mostly glass, resembles the separation between the hull and the sail. The other element is the curvature of the building. Part of that was driven by site conditions, but the overall idea behind the façade of the building and its massing was taken directly from a sailboat inspiration.

What are some of the other noteworthy design elements?

Eddy: One of the detrimental aspects of the old campus was its lack of a visible presence in Panama City, so one of the challenges was creating a new identity and a new signature as a prominent healthcare facility. It began at the master plan level. The big idea was simply to put the front door at the front of the campus. We focused on the approach to the campus from a mile out, locating the stair tower and logo so they could be seen from that distance. As you reach the campus, the family lounge acts as an iconic feature, and the exterior lighting and expanse of windows at the lobby direct attention to the front door.

Mitch: The hospital staff is very excited about it—they refer to the features as their new iconic elements. They are excited that their facility can now be seen from nearby highways and that the main entrance can be more easily found.

What is the most significant design element in terms of long-term benefit?

Eddy: They paid a premium for a more durable building envelope. It was specifically requested because the hospital serves as a hurricane evacuation facility. During a recent hurricane, much of their infrastructure was compromised because of damage to the skin of the building, so we purposely looked at it with that in mind. The windows are triple-pane insulated and hurricane resistant. We used the same durable design features for the power plant by using elements that would safeguard the infrastructure from hurricane damage.

Building Information Modeling (BIM) was used extensively during the project. How did that help meet the stringent time and financial objectives?

Eddy: We utilized BIM during the structural analysis of the building, and in conjunction with the contractor a detailed BIM model was developed to speed up the coordination process on the electrical, mechanical, and plumbing work. Because of BIM, we were able to complete fabrication in an expedited manner, and it also helped with the coordination of infrastructure work before construction as well as in the field. BIM also helped us achieve the standards for flexibility in the infrastructure and helped us deal with connectivity back to the main hospital, which had smaller floor-to-floor heights. Team member buy-in was very important throughout the process. Hoar Construction (the general contractor) employed BIM-trained staff members to work on the project, and they were able to take our drawings and model them so that they could use it with their subcontractors. The process allowed us to identify issues earlier, helped us resolve them faster and ultimately saved money.

What can you take from this project and apply to other similar jobs?

Eddy: I’m currently working on a $59 million patient tower project that’s a couple million dollars over budget. I think the big lesson that I learned from working on Bay Medical Center is that, to use a football analogy, “you can’t win the game in the first quarter.” This is a process from design all the way through construction. It’s a concerted effort, from start to finish, to find those efficiencies.

Mitch: Another takeaway was our unique use of the charrette process during the project. As designers and architects, we often use the charrette to identify project issues and brainstorm solutions on the fly. Unfortunately, the process often dies at the end of design.

For this project we continued that method all the way through—in the scheming, conceptualization, programming, planning, and even during construction document production and construction. On a regular basis, we would have the administrative suite, board of directors, contractor and engineers all in the room together solving the problem. Stretching that concept into a total project process rather than just a design element was something that we’ve carried forward into other projects very successfully.

In conclusion, what about this project makes you the proudest?

Mitch: From the initial planning phases all the way through the five years it took us to complete this project, the hospital looked to us as trusted advisors. We really do have a story to tell here of how hospital leadership at multiple levels, GS&P and the general contractor all came together as one—on a very tight schedule and budget—to build a much needed upgrade to improve healthcare in this community. In the end, we made it all happen and delivered the project under budget and ahead of schedule.

In the process we became intimately involved with the client and the community. We earned the trust of the medical staff, nursing staff, hospital and board of directors. And it’s the way that everyone handled themselves with professionalism and commitment to our core values every day that endeared GS&P to this institution. That in and of itself is not unique, but to do it throughout our project team is something of which I’m very proud.

The hospital’s CEO, Steve Johnson, says he feels that’s the thing that sets us apart. There are plenty of technically competent architects out there, but how we bought into the program and became a part of this community is really what endeared us to them and them to us.


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Project Info

  • Client: Bay Medical Center
  • Location: Panama City, FL, USA
  • Market: Healthcare Design
  • Services: Architecture, Engineering, Interior Design, Building Information Modeling (BIM), Civil Engineering, Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing (MEP)
  • Team:
    • Mitchell W. Whiteside, AIA, NCARB PRINCIPAL-IN-CHARGE
    • J. Robert Murphy, Jr., AIA, LEED AP PROJECT MANAGER
    • Edward C. Alonso Project Architect, Designer
    • Jonas Booker Project Coordinator
    • Timothy J. Anson, AIA, LEED AP Project Coordinator
    • David V. McMullin, P.E., LEED AP Project ENGINEER
    • Emil A. Slavik, AIA, ACHA Planning, Programming
    • Janet C. Cox, IIDA, LEED AP Interior Design, Planning
    • A. Hunter Bogitsh, CPD, LEED AP
    • Charles A. Kelly, Jr., ASLA
    • Dexter A. Carty, IIDA
    • Lindsay North Cashion, III, LEED AP
    • Jason B. Fukuda, P.E., S.E.
    • Robert D. Gower, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP
    • James Graham
    • Jason Huff, P.E., LEED AP
    • Michael D. Hunkler, P.E., LEED AP
    • Larry D. Leman
    • Jon D. Long, P.E., LEED AP
    • William H. Masters, P.E., LEED AP
    • Terence S. Mulvaney, RLA, CLARB
    • Sarah Norville Peinhardt, IIDA, LEED AP
    • Sean B. Smith, P.E., S.E.
    • Bryan A. Tharpe, P.E.
    • W. McClain Towery, P.E., LEED AP
  • Awards:

    Best Construction Detail, Alabama Chapter IIDA

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