New Orleans VA hospital construction under way

Facility set to be finished in three years

Work on the new Veterans Affairs hospital in Mid-City is under way and should wrap in February 2016, project officials recently told a City Council committee.

The campus is expected to cost about $1 billion and will include 10 buildings on 30 acres bounded by South Galvez Street, Tulane Avenue, South Rocheblave Street and Canal Street, said Julie Catellier, medical center director of the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System.

The new facilities will require the VA to hire 1,100 new people, Catellier said. That number will be in addition to the 1,250 already on the agency’s payroll, she told the council’s Health, Education and Social Services Committee last week. The average salary of those who will be employed there will be about $100,000.

While the new hospital will serve roughly 40,000 veterans in 23 parishes who use the Southeast Louisiana system, it also will be a regional referral center, meaning other veterans throughout the southeast United States will use it too.

Mark Brideweser, project executive with the VA Office of Construction and Facilities Management, said the campus’ central energy plant is beginning to rise on Tulane Avenue, while the piles for the inpatient bed tower that will make up a large portion of the Canal Street side are almost all driven.

The steel skeleton should begin to go up “in a couple of weeks,” he said.

A concourse, much like those found in airports, will connect all the buildings on the VA site, Catellier said. The space will serve as something of a military museum with help from National World War II Museum.

While the majority of the new structures have yet to be built, the former Pan American Life building on Canal and South Rocheblave has undergone a renovation and will be put into use later this year, Catellier said. It will house administrative support and workforce development offices, she said.

The VA hospital and University Medical Center, LSU’s new hospital, were not without controversy because of the displacement of hundreds of people and the bulldozing of dozens of city blocks.

Catellier said her office has worked to make sure four homes removed from the hospital’s footprint will be moved back to serve as post-rehabilitation and mental health housing.

The century-old Dixie Brewery building, she said, is planned to be incorporated into a research building. Catellier said the VA is doing “everything we can” to maintain the brewery’s facade and cupola.

The program to save some of the homes moved out of the hospitals’ footprints has come under fire since many of the houses have never been rehabilitated or repaired and instead are deteriorating.

Catellier, however, said the VA is doing its best to make sure it tries to save as much of the historic fabric of the area as possible.

“We’ve worked very hard to work with the preservation community,” she said.