Hospital Builder

One alumnus explains the philosophy behind the construction of healthcare facilities and his motivation to design them.

Many civil engineers leave Purdue with the structural design background that serves them well in positions where they oversee construction projects: roads, bridges, and all assortments of buildings. That was the initial path of Dale Jacobs (BSCE '63), who after a stint in the Air Force as a construction officer started an engineering consulting firm designing educational buildings, retail facilities, banks, subdivisions, and so forth. But in 1983 he decided he wanted to build facilities that contributed more to mankind.

Enter architecture and engineering firm BSA LifeStructures where today he is a principal and vice president of program management services and quality control. The long road to BSA LifeStructures may have begun 25 years earlier when the Cambridge City, Indiana, native switched his studies from electrical engineering to civil engineering in his freshman year. "After four years in the Air Force, I entered public service for a few years as a city planner and city engineer," Jacobs says.

He spent another 13 years with a business partner in engineering and architectural design before making the jump to BSA LifeStructures. "I was tired of designing little boxes, and I wanted to do something that had more of an impact on people," Jacobs says. "The healthcare industry happened to be the one I found. We're doing all kinds of special facilities that are targeted to helping people get well."

But how different can designing a hospital be from designing a bank? "It's totally different," Jacobs says. "When you design a commercial building it's basically a skin, and then you fit out the office space inside. In a medical building, there are special restrictions and requirements that must be considered. Part of it has to do with seismic structural design. There are also requirements for life safety, fire protection, emergency communications systems, radiology suites, and MRIs, which require shielding, and other strategic components."

Operating rooms (ORs), Jacobs says, are a particular challenge and difficult to design. "There are separate requirements for medical gases, air, and all of the support systems necessary for a surgical operation."

And unlike the typical office building, a hospital is like a little city. "It has its own power plant, restaurant, laundry services, administrative offices, procedure rooms like ORs and MRI suites, and often a helipad on site," Jacobs says.

Perhaps Jacobs' early experience as a city planner has served him well on much of the work he's done for hospitals such as St. Vincent, Hendricks Regional Health, and Deaconess Hospital. One major project he oversaw in the 1990s was the Roudebush Veteran Affairs Center in Indianapolis. "We added some 380,000 square feet of major space and renovated 170,000 square feet of existing space," Jacobs says. "The project value in those days was about $100 million, and right now would be about $150 million."

Now BSA LifeStructures is adding two more floors to a tower that the company designed at the same Veteran Affairs complex in the last decade. Repeat business such as that is a big part of BSA LifeStructures' business. "Approximately 85 percent of our projects are for return clients," Jacobs says.

With repeat business that surely stems from a client–focused mission statement and a building philosophy that carefully considers the future patients who will inhabit these facilities, BSA LifeStructures looks to continue to provide a strong presence on the healthcare front. The firm also works in higher education; BSA LifeStructures designed the new biomedical engineering building at Purdue University. And for a former Purdue student who cut his teeth on campus in structural design when Kennedy was president, Dale Jacobs' impact on humanity continues to mark his career path.

—William Meiners