The academic cancer institute will be built in the grassy area along East North Avenue in front of Allegheny General Hospital's South Tower. Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Planning Commission.

A new cancer center planned for the North Side will brighten the front of Allegheny General Hospital with a colored glass façade, an atrium that ties into the hospital’s South Tower and soothing “healing gardens” designed to let patients and families commune with nature.

Allegheny Health Network and its architect, IKM, briefed the Pittsburgh Planning Commission on Jan. 23 about the design and construction of the $53 million academic cancer institute to be built along East North Avenue. The hospital network hopes to break ground by March, says Dr. David Parda, chair of Allegheny Health Network Cancer Institute.

The proposed four-story building between the Sandusky Garage and the hospital tower will have two floors below ground, two above and a mechanical floor on top. The atrium will connect the cancer center to the South Tower to preserve the hospital’s historical features, according to the plans submitted to the city.

The cancer institute is part of a $200 million investment over two years that AHN and its parent Highmark Health announced in June 2017, to help patients fight cancer close to home, says Parda. AHN also plans to build a half-dozen community cancer treatment centers in western Pennsylvania.

“Our new model of cancer care helps us continue to give people better access to leading-edge, world-class medicine without leaving Pittsburgh. And treatment that is more affordable,” Parda says.

An aerial view of the project site, shaded in grey, in plans submitted to the Pittsburgh Planning Commission.

According to the building plans, the cancer institute will be situated in a grassy area next to Allegheny General’s helicopter pad, which will remain. The building’s façade along East North Avenue will have blue faceted glass and clear glass panels with horizontal solar shading.

Architect Christopher Trotta, president of levelHEADS, is collaborating with AHN to develop designs for the community cancer centers that focus on patients, says Parda.

The goal for all its centers is to make easily accessible buildings with clear signage; waiting spaces that feel like living rooms; spaces that make privacy a priority; and lounges with natural light and internet access, he says.

The outdoor gardens are meant to provide “positive distraction and connection with the community,” says Parda. Their design emphasizes natural landscapes, with meandering walking paths, public art and secluded seating enclaves.

The project also includes recladding the adjacent garage with brick, glass and perforated metal screening. A valet station will be built inside the garage entrance to accommodate the cancer center, which will require an estimated 73 parking spaces for patients and staff during peak hours of operation.

In addition to the cancer centers, the hospital network is expanding its relationship with Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, to offer better access to doctors with the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University and more than 500 clinical trials.

“It’s a highly collaborative process where all experts and institutions share knowledge and best practices to accelerate advances in medicine for our patients today in real-time ways,” says Parda. “Patients with rare and complex cancers can get remote second opinions from Johns Hopkins doctors. They can also participate in clinical trials led by Johns Hopkins researchers.”

The North Side cancer institute will be the hub for Allegheny Health Network’s cancer-related academic and research activities and will house Allegheny General’s medical and radiation oncology programs, Parda says.

AHN already offers comprehensive cancer care including hematology, medical, radiation and surgical oncology through more than 50 clinics across the region.

The broadened collaboration with Johns Hopkins Medicine comes as a June 2019 expiration date approaches for consent decrees that gave Highmark health insurance members access to competitor UPMC’s Hillman Cancer Center in Shadyside.

Cancer remains the second leading cause of death in the United States, with more than 1.6 million new cases in 2016 and a 50 percent increase expected over the next decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But improved screening and treatments are expected to increase the number of cancer survivors, from 11.7 million in 2007 to 18 million in 2020, the CDC says.

Sandra Tolliver

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.