If you drive along Michigan St. in or out of downtown South Bend, you've witnessed the ongoing renovation to the Memorial Hospital skyway bridge; a project that's creeping along with the rush hour traffic.
The former elevated structure, made of tan and rose-colored stucco, dated back to the 1980s. After many bitter Northern Indiana winters and humid summers, the facade was decaying, while the interior walkway had poor climate control.
"We had some mechanical issues with it, heating and cooling and surface rust on the support columns. Through this project, everything will be upgraded and bring a contemporary look,” Memorial Hospital President Kreg Gruber said.
In Aug. 2012, South Bend-based Holladay Construction Group began chiseling the walkway down to its steel support frame. However, structural complications and January’s on-and-off again snow slowed progress.
"Construction is oftentimes a messy business. The view I've had for the last few months has not been so beautiful, but I know it is coming and I think everyone will really enjoy it,” Gruber added as he glanced at the site from his ground floor office.
The new L-shaped bridge, 173 feet in length, will be modern and polished. It already sports Cherokee blue windows, identical to the glistening glass at Memorial Leighton Heart & Vascular Center, across Michigan St. The windows are not only cohesive with much of the medical center campus, but also made of energy-efficient thermally broken glass.
The interior walkway will utilize the most modern HVAC ductwork, copper piping and insulation. Unlike its predecessor, the new bridge will appear perfectly level from the exterior, despite a slight structural gradient.
"We want to look good for our community. So if we stay ahead of that curve, we can help lift everything up in the Chapin Park neighborhood and across all of South Bend,” Gruber remarked.
But accessibility trumps aesthetics in the Skyway Building, a 50,192 sq. foot – four story medical office complex, connected to Memorial Hospital by the skyway bridge. The Memorial Advanced Cardiovascular Institute is the building’s biggest tenant, seeing more than 100 patients a day.
"It’s very useful for our five physicians who are back and forth from the hospital all the time. They go to make rounds with patients. They also have procedures throughout the day, so they're constantly running back and forth,” Daniel Tom, a nurse practitioner with MACI said.
The well-respected practice, which employees 41 medical staff members, relocated to its current location in July 2009, primarily because of its proximity to Memorial via the skyway.
"We deal with a lot of acute visits; people having problems like chest pain or an abnormal EKG. We’ll often find out about an issue, maybe a heart attack, and we need to get them over to the emergency room immediately. So the skyway is essential for us,” Tom added.
The $1.1 million project is being funded solely by Medical TIF accounts. The skyway project is $817,000 of that figure, with the remaining $302,000 being allocated for a facade facelift on the Skyway Building – similar to that of surrounding Memorial structures.
"I think that's a good thing for the city because when we have visitors and organizations considering South Bend for their business, you want the city to be presentable. This new bridge will be one of the first things they will see when they come into the downtown area,” Gruber concluded.
Dave Relos, a South Bend economic development planner says the skyway bridge construction should be complete by mid-April. The Skyway Building facade work, essentially phase two of the project, is slated to wrap-up in late June. Michigan St. lane restrictions, which have caused heavy traffic in the area, will cease at that time.