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Signs of Children’s growth sprouting in downtown Akron

By Cheryl Powell
Beacon Journal medical writer

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The Air Bear helicopter from Akron Children's Hospital takes off over part of the hospital's seven-floor, 1,250 space parking garage under construction at 156 W. Exchange Street on Monday in Akron, Ohio. The garage is part of a massive $200 million expansion planned for the main campus in Akron. (Michael Chritton/Akron Beacon Journal)

The latest sign of Akron Children’s Hospital’s growth is sprouting in downtown Akron.

Construction is under way on a 1,250-space parking garage across from the hospital’s campus on West Exchange Street.

The parking garage, which is expected to open in September, is part of a massive $200 million expansion planned for the pediatric hospital’s main campus.

Hospital officials are finalizing design details for an $180 million, six-floor tower, which will house a new emergency department, ambulatory surgery center and neonatal intensive-care unit.

Design work is scheduled to be completed in March, with construction of the new tower beginning shortly afterward, Children’s Chief Operating Officer Grace Wakulchik said Monday. The project is expected to be completed in the summer of 2015.

“We are on track,” she said. “Things are going very well. We’re getting a lot of good feedback from our clinicians and families that are working with us.”

For several months, Children’s has been inviting doctors, nurses, other staff and patient families to join design workshops inside donated warehouse space in Green.

Life-sized walls made from sturdy cardboard have been providing mock versions of the new facility that staff and families can try and test before architectural drawings are finalized and real walls are constructed.

The resulting design includes an ER on the first floor, which spans nearly two stories; an outpatient surgery center on the third floor; and an expanded NICU on the sixth and seventh floors.

The fourth and fifth floors initially will be shelled while the hospital determines the best use for the additional space, Wakulchik said.

The addition will be connected to the existing hospital on the third floor.

Office workers who had been located in hospital-owned buildings on Locust Street that are scheduled for demolition to make way for the addition are being moved to the Cedar Pines facility on Cedar Street, she said.

The parking garage under construction will have a connector bridge to the new tower when the facility opens in two years, said Lin Gentile, the hospital’s vice president for professional and support services. In the meantime, the spaces will be used for employee parking.

The garage will have six levels for parking, as well as a basement level for ambulances.

Children’s is seeking at least $50 million in donations to pay for the project, according to hospital officials. The rest is being funded through borrowing and hospital reserves.

The hospital also plans to raise $10 million to help Ronald McDonald House expand.

Gentile said Children’s is kicking off its fundraising campaign with administrators and physicians.

Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or Follow Powell on Twitter at