By Jack Stubbs
“We know that we can’t make a roadmap to eureka moments. But we can create the conditions that are most conducive to allowing those moments to happen, and we do that by bringing diverse skill sets and different perspective to the table. We’re talking about what we might learn by bringing the built environment together with what we know about geriatric care or bringing clean energy technology to transform the health of city dwellers,” said Ana Mari Cauce, president of the University of Washington at a groundbreaking held for the institution’s in-the-works Population Health building, which is now officially underway.
On Wednesday, April 25th, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for a new 300,000 square foot facility—located at 15th Ave. NE and NE 40th St. on University of Washington’s campus—which is scheduled for completion in 2020. The Miller Hull Partnership was the architect on the project and Lease Crutcher Lewis was the general contractor and design-builder.
The facility will be home to the University’s Population Health Initiative launched by the institution in 2016, which is a 25-year effort that revolves around human health, environmental resilience and social and economic equity. The goal of the program is to turn the diagnosis of patients and wider world populations into actionable policies, reforms, interventions and innovations, according to the web site for the program. The university’s Department of Global Health, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and portions of the School of Public Health will all be located in the building.
The recent groundbreaking ceremony represented a landmark moment in the university’s commitment to public health on the local and global scale, according to University of Washington provost Gerald Baldasty. “This is really a remarkable moment for the university, for our community, the state [of Washington] and the world. We celebrate today the combination of visionary philanthropy, innovative research and collaboration with the university’s spectacular work [done] by its faculty, staff and students,” he said.
One of the broader goals of the approximately $230 million project—which was made possible by a $210 million donation from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and $15 million in earmarked funding from state legislature—is to foster further collaboration between many of the university’s academic fields through the Public Health Initiative, according to Baldasty. “Here at the university, we’ve long believed that the really big problems in the world can be solved through collaborative, interdisciplinary work. The Population Health Initiative brings together many areas of studies and research, across public health, engineering, medicine, social work, sociology, history and many other fields,” he said. “This building will serve as a central hub to connect and convene faculty students and staff across the disciplines.”
Programmatically, the facility will feature a variety of different uses, including offices (single and multiple occupancy and open work stations); collaborative group work areas; conference rooms; instructional spaces and computing laboratories; and outdoor spaces associated with program and campus needs.
Through its Population Health Initiative, the University of Washington hopes to create and leverage new capabilities and opportunities within the world of population health on a local, regional and global scale by strengthening community resilience; addressing the health and well-being of adolescents by maximizing cognitive and physical development; and nurturing emotional, physiological and social welfare of people across the globe, according to the web site for the initiative.
More locally, the region of which the university is a part has increasingly become a focal point for addressing population health, according to Cauce, and the in-the-works building is representative of the role that the institution will continue to play. “Here in the Puget Sound, we have become a global hub for population health. There are over 130 different organizations working on these issues,” she said. “This [project] is a prime example of what universities not only can do, but [what they] must do, to serve the public. This service begins in Washington State, but has to go beyond that. We can both lead and convene and contribute our expertise and creativity.”
However, the role of the university extends beyond addressing global health concerns on the level of principle; it also relates to state legislative matters as well, according to Senator David Frockt, who represents the 46th district in the State Senate. “The university is vital to the city, region and state for its intellectual leadership. And It’s not just okay to support [the institution] publicly; it is unquestionably the right thing to do for policy makers and budget leaders,” he said.
And although the impact of the new facility will undoubtedly be felt by the institution itself and by the city of Seattle, the hope is that the under-construction project will go some way to addressing how public health services are disseminated and funded in the state of Washington, as well. Although the groundbreaking of the Population Health building at the University of Washington represents a landmark moment, there is still work to be done, according to Representative Steve Tharinger, who represents the 24th District in the Olympic Peninsula. “We’ve are trying to coordinate our capital investments with more of our capital budget. We have challenges around mental and behavioral health and we’ve been putting dollars into the operating budget, but haven’t been keeping up with investing in the clinics in rural areas,” he said. “We need a more coordinated global approach on health families thrive so that we can meet their needs in a more holistic way.”
In the shorter term, the groundbreaking of the new facility comes at a time when global health is at a pivotal junction, according to Chris Elias, president of global development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who emphasized how a change in mindset might be needed when it comes to the provision of global health. “We are at a critically important time in global health and closing the great inequities that exist between those living in low-income countries and those living in wealthier countries. This will require that we look beyond our areas of individual expertise and look across other disciplines and sectors.”