Along the picturesque southern shore of Back Bay in the city of Biloxi, Miss., is an expansive complex of buildings organized in a campus-like setting on more than 100 acres of land: the VA Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System (GCVHCS).
Since the 1930s, the GCVHCS, which comprised the Biloxi VA Medical Center and the Gulfport VA Medical Center, provided primary and secondary medical, surgical, and long-term care services to more than 60,000 veterans along the Alabama and Mississippi Gulf Coast, and the Florida Panhandle.
In June 2004, plans were made to expand and combine the Biloxi and Gulfport campuses as part of VA’s Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) program. As these plans were taking shape, on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast region.
A tidal surge caused by the hurricane wrecked the Gulfport VA Medical Center, which was closer to the shore, and almost immediately forced the facility’s closing and transfer of its services to the Biloxi VA Medical Center.
“What we had hoped to do in an organized, systematic way, as far as putting the campuses together, suddenly had to be jumpstarted,” says Gary Butterfield, CARES project coordinator for the GCVHCS. “After Katrina happened, we doubled and tripled employees in the space available, and some patient services were put in temporary trailers. We also ramped up the project schedule to construct multiple buildings simultaneously.”
Following the event, the GCVHCS commissioned international architecture/engineering firm Leo A Daly, in a joint venture with Blitch Knevel Architects from New Orleans, to consolidate the Biloxi and Gulfport facilities and provide master planning, architecture, interiors, and engineering services for the following new facilities: a major clinical addition, blind rehabilitation center, mental health unit, community living center, and support facilities consisting of a laundry and dietetics building, a parking garage, and a utility plant.
“A week after Hurricane Katrina, we did an assessment,” says John Andrews, AIA, vice president and senior project manager of Leo A Daly. “We started work soon after, in November.”
At the heart of this $310 million project is a 150,000-square-foot, four-story clinical addition. Adjacent and connected to the existing hospital on all levels, the facility, which was completed in June 2012, houses a 20-bed universal patient room unit, an ambulatory outpatient surgery unit with four operating rooms, 30 primary care examination rooms, two multipurpose procedure rooms, and physician offices.
Also included are spaces for orthopedics, podiatry, ENT, general medicine, gastroenterology, women’s health, oncology, urology, pulmonary care, dermatology, ophthalmology, and audiology/speech pathology.
“A critical aspect of this clinical addition is that all our outpatient clinical services and ancillary support services are housed in the same facility,” Butterfield says. “Previously, we had primary care in one building and specialty care in another building, and they were all on different floors. Now, a veteran doesn’t have to try to find his way around.”
To preserve the architectural character and historical significance of the Biloxi campus, the Leo A Daly/Blitch Knevel Architects joint venture team collaborated with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Elements of the original Southern Colonial Revival Style, such as high ceilings; colonnades; arches; exterior materials such as brick, precast, and stucco; wide porches; and low-pitched roofs were integrated into the facility.