Originally posted by Buffalo News  |  By Jonathan D. Epstein  |  Published June 20, 2014

The first batch of workers from Catholic Health system will move into the hospital company’s new corporate headquarters in downtown Buffalo at the end of July, as Uniland Development Co. works to put the final touches on its offices at the foot of the Kensington Expressway.

About 70 to 80 workers are scheduled to occupy space in the shiny new 139,000-square-foot building as of July 25, marking the first wave of what will ultimately be more than 700 employees moving to the central business district.

The hospital system’s employees will fill a six-story corporate headquarters and regional training facility that was designed to maximize flexibility for the future, while unifying Catholic Health’s administrative staff under one roof for the first time since the integrated system was created 16 years ago.

The project is on time, after Uniland put in extra shifts every Saturday and on a few Sundays to make up for lost time. More than 100 workers are on site every day. “We’re working toward the schedule, after a tough winter, so there’s a lot of work going on here now,” said David Vitka, vice president of facility planning for Catholic Health.

The $51 million project at 144 Genesee St., between the Elm and Oak arterials, is one of several major ongoing construction projects in downtown Buffalo that are changing the city’s landscape and skyline.

The Catholic Health project is particularly visible because it sits at the entrance to the central business district for commuters on the Kensington.

For Catholic Health, though, the project is all about a new way of doing business, designed to be more efficient and more collaborative. It relies on a combination of Steelcase modular furniture, cubicles, walls and even floors that can be easily reconfigured as needs change, simply by lifting, repositioning and reconnecting pieces.

Electrical wires and cables fit snugly underneath “floating” low-rise floors, which are comprised of hundreds of triangular metal pieces that are linked together and connected to black cylinders, which in turn are spaced evenly and sit loosely on the cement floor underneath. The metal floor is then covered by carpet tiles that can be easily removed to access floors and wires beneath. Walls, furniture, metal-framed frosted glass office doors and cubicles are also movable and interchangeable. In all, it took 80 tractor-trailers to deliver the pieces.

“We won’t need to construct anything with conventional drywall and time and dust and all of that,” Vitka said. “It’s a nimble building.”

The nonprofit health care provider, which operates Sisters Hospital, Mercy Hospital of Buffalo, Kenmore Mercy Hospital and multiple other facilities, is consolidating its administration functions to the new building from eight locations in Buffalo and its suburbs. The new complex includes parking for nearly 900 vehicles in a four-level ramp and surface spaces.

About 400 employees will be coming from outside the city, particularly from the AppleTree Business Park in Cheektowaga, with the rest coming from locations at Sisters, Mercy and the former Nazareth Home at Symphony Circle. Catholic Medical Partners, the independent practice group of Catholic Health doctors, is also relocating its leadership in August 2015, and will share the sixth-floor executive suite with Catholic Health.

Officials have projected the move will ultimately save about $1 million in annual expenses through reduced travel, joint purchasing, centralized supplies and storage, and even the use of a handful of advanced multi-function copy-and-print machines to replace many separate machines for smaller groups of people at all sites.

Savings are also envisioned in postage and even through the use of UV-filtered water dispensers instead of water coolers. “There are dozens and dozens of things you wouldn’t even consider that add up to cost-savings,” said Catholic Health spokesman Chuck Hayes.

Catholic Health also will make the training facilities in the building available for health and education partners, such as University at Buffalo, Niagara University, D’Youville College, Trocaire College, Erie 1 BOCES and hospitals in Niagara County and rural areas.

And it hopes its workforce will add to downtown. “There’s a real connection to the city,” Hayes said. “We don’t want to just plop down here, drive off and be done. We’re looking for our associates to be part of it.”

So while there is a cafeteria that seats 160, the company will encourage employees to take advantage of the 52 eateries that are within walking distance. “We wanted people to embrace the city,” Vitka said. “We didn‘t want people living in the plastic bubble, going from the suburb to here and going right home.”

Hayes said some employees “have some trepidation about coming downtown” because they’ve never lived or worked in the city, so “we’re doing our best to get them acclimated.”

“Regardless of what the hesitation is, it’s new and it’s different. Change is always tough, but we think it’s going to be great for the long run.”