South Jordan Health Center: Developing a Sustainable Medical Facility

Fall 2013
High-performance window glazing with a custom frit pattern helps reduce interior heat gain while providing fantastic views. The exterior shell’s rain screen allows air to flow behind it, which also reduces heat gain. Photo courtesy of Dennis Mecham.

When the University of Utah and Kennecott Land decided to build a new health center in the rapidly growing planned community of Daybreak in South Jordan, Utah, they had ambitious goals: to provide the community with a facility that would offer the best in health care services and state-of-the-art medical technology while also limiting the building’s impact on the environment. Most full-scale medical facilities use an enormous amount of energy, which makes obtaining LEED certification a challenge. But by implementing sustainability features into the building from the earliest design stages — and with the support of a collaborative effort — the development team was able to exceed its expectations.

Back in 2010, Kennecott Land, a division of Rio Tinto’s Kennecott Utah Copper, and University of Utah Health Care, the medical arm of the University of Utah, combined forces to create a cutting-edge multispecialty care center in only 15 months. South Jordan Health Center is a 210,000-square-foot medical center that offers a full range of medical services including primary and specialty care services, outpatient surgery, a full-service pharmacy, a 24-hour emergency room and an AirMed helicopter pad, as well as branches of the Huntsman Cancer Institute and the Moran Eye Center. It also has a cafe, an espresso bar, and a large conference room that can be used for banquets, seminars, and other events. In October 2012, it became the first full-service medical center in the state to achieve LEED Gold certification.

Minimizing Disturbance and Waste

The green building strategy for South Jordan Health Center started in the early planning stages. The facility was designed with floor-to-ceiling windows in many locations. Because these glazed areas make up about 65 percent of the exterior shell, the challenge for designers was to figure out a way to keep solar heat gain from driving up operating costs. In an effort to reduce direct heat gain from the sun in the summer and maximize it in the winter, the design team planned early on for the building to face northwest, which means that the majority of the glazing is shaded during much of the day during the summer. This orientation, along with awning placement and the abundant use of fritted glass (glass with a patterned ceramic coating), minimizes direct southern exposure when the sun is at its hottest, while still providing abundant natural light throughout the facility.

Careful consideration was given to the building footprint to limit site disturbance to the smallest area possible. More than 75 percent of the construction waste generated on site was recycled, which diverted more than 1,387 tons of concrete, steel, aluminum, and insulation from landfills. Materials and supplies were bought locally or were regionally sourced whenever possible. In addition, 20 percent of the building materials used contained recycled content.

Green From the Outside In

The building has an exterior shell made of terra cotta and fibreC concrete panels — both relatively new to Utah — that helps retain heat in the winter and conserve cool air in the summer. An unusual rain screen design allows air to flow behind the shell and reduces solar heat gain. Floor-to-ceiling glass maximizes natural light while maintaining dramatic views of the nearby mountains. These and other features are expected to result in the facility using at least 20 percent less energy than the current code-defined standard. These features also are expected to have a direct impact on patient outcomes, since numerous studies have shown that patients recover faster when they are treated in health care environments that provide access to natural light and views of the outdoors.

lobby of South Jordan Medical Center

South Jordan Health Center’s main lobby area was designed to look more like an exclusive resort than a medical facility.

University of Utah Health Care also has committed to using energy-efficient green power purchased through Rocky Mountain Power’s Blue Sky Program. This power is generated from natural resources, including wind and solar, making the facility’s operations even more sustainable.

Inside, South Jordan Health Center’s lush wood surfaces, three-story skylit atrium, and a grand piano make visitors feel more like they are entering an exclusive resort than a medical center. Designers improved indoor air quality by incorporating interior materials that are low emitters of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and by designating the center smoke free. Skylights, high ceilings, wide corridors, and an open layout make the most of natural light. The center also is one of the first health care facilities in Utah to feature self-check-in kiosks, which reduce patient wait times and increase privacy.

The building design also facilitates collaboration among patients and their health care providers. An easy-to-navigate layout places complementary services next to each other to maximize collaboration among specialty physicians. The design fosters a high level of teamwork between primary care physicians and specialists by making it easy for them to meet face-to-face with one another and with patients.

One of the building’s more innovative design elements is the separation of patient areas and work areas. Patients use separate hallways and have their own entrances to exam rooms, and thus are not exposed to much of the activity that takes place “behind the scenes.” They see only the personnel they need to see. This attention to traffic flow makes for a safe, accessible, and aesthetically pleasing environment.

The facility also offers patients, visitors, and medical staff several conveniently located, easily accessible areas of respite, the largest of which is the central atrium. Employees can enjoy the beauty of the outdoors from a private patio area on the lower ground level, directly outside the customer service center.

Continuing to Conserve and Recycle

South Jordan Health Center has developed and implemented an exterior site management plan to reduce the environmental impacts of landscape installation and maintenance. The landscaping uses a secondary (non-potable) water system for irrigation along with other water-reducing strategies, which together contribute to an estimated 87 percent reduction in the use of potable water for landscaping. Drought-resistant and indigenous plants are used throughout the development.

waiting area in South Jordan Medical Center

Large, open spaces and multiple seating arrangements in waiting areas were designed to help reduce patient anxiety. They also allow for easy traffic flow. Photo courtesy of Dennis Mecham.

In addition, the land around the center is designed to hold all stormwater on site, which replenishes the natural groundwater and greatly reduces the need to convey water through a costly central stormwater system. Horticultural sprays are used as the primary treatment for specific pests, reducing insecticide use. Planter beds are fertilized with earth-friendly compost, natural surfactants, mycorrhizal fungi, and other organic material.

Water conservation efforts extend to the facility’s interior operations as well. Low-flow faucets and dual-flush toilets are reducing potable water use within the building by about 20 percent.

Finally, South Jordan Health Center has an active and expanding recycling program. Traditional single-stream recycling is encouraged through the use of combination desk cans in all offices, nurses’ stations, and other areas. These 28.5-quart recycling bins, with a smaller waste can inside for nonrecyclable materials, allow employees to recycle without having to find room for an unwieldy recycling bin in their workspaces.

In early July the facility began participating in a new program that aims to recycle up to 90 percent of the center’s medical waste. Surgical staff now discard recyclable medical waste — including empty saline and IV bags, cleanser bottles and other containers, glove packs, and foil packaging — into blue liners kept in the surgical suite; the liners remain in the room through a single surgery, then are sealed and removed before the next surgery begins. Health center staff currently are identifying additional materials that can be recycled from exam rooms and other parts of the facility, and expect to expand the recycling program even further.

Troubled Waters

During construction, shortly after flooring and millwork had been installed, a sampling valve in the fire-suppression pipe failed, allowing 15,000 gallons of water to flow from the top level of the west wing, flooding a three-floor area overnight. The destruction originated in the ceiling of the west wing’s top level. The water caused extensive damage to electrical and mechanical systems, interior walls, flooring, and millwork. All cabinets and flooring had to be replaced before additional progress could be made.

The project team worked closely with industrial hygienists, who used moisture sensors, air sampling tests, and infra-red scanning to ensure that all of the materials that had been damaged by water were removed and the building could be given a clean bill of health. The damaged material was submitted for recycling and thus diverted from the landfill. Despite this setback, the Layton Construction project team put together an aggressive recovery schedule and was able to complete the project on schedule.

Future Growth and Prosperity

South Jordan Health Center is now fully occupied. It serves approximately 166,590 residents within a five-mile radius, a population that is projected to grow by 12.5 percent over the next five years. The facility is the first phase of what eventually will become a 50-acre medical campus in the heart of the Daybreak community. The facility is easily accessible by car, bus, or TRAX light rail, which encourages both medical staff and patients to use transit. Kennecott and the university worked with the Utah Transit Authority to bring the TRAX line to the new health center prior to its opening and also made possible a direct route between the university’s two campuses. This is an important link, since the university is the area’s largest user of public transportation.

The partnership between Kennecott and University of Utah Health Care has continued beyond the opening of the South Jordan Health Center. As part of Kennecott’s employee wellness program, professional health coaches from the University Health and Wellness Center provide free counseling and assessments on health and fitness-related issues. Employees can visit with a coach at a Kennecott facility to plan lifelong wellness choices.

South Jordan Medical Center project summary table