In 2017, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta unveiled plans for an expansive campus at the interchange of North Druid Hills Road and I-85. The campus would cover 70 acres and include the then already-under-construction Center for Advanced Pediatrics, acres of green space and a new state-of-the-art hospital. 

Chris Chelette, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s senior vice president of facilities services.

The project originally was to be completed by 2026. Today, the Center for Advanced Pediatrics is open, and the new hospital – dubbed the Arthur M. Blank Hospital in 2020 – is expected to be completed by late 2024. 

According to Children’s, the donation from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation was the largest in the organization’s history. The hospital is expected to have one 19-story tower with two wings, operating rooms, specialty bed and diagnostic equipment, and will be connected to an 11-story medical office building.  

Chris Chelette, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s senior vice president of facilities services, recently answered questions about the progress of construction and what the new facility means for the city. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Q. Can you give an overview of construction? 

A. 2016, that’s when we started construction on the [Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta] Center for Advanced Pediatrics, so we’ve been six years – almost approaching seven years – in construction on our North Druid Hills Campus. We started the Arthur M. Blank Hospital in February of 2020. We celebrated topping out in May of this year, about 2 1/2 years into the project. That really signifies the about halfway mark with construction. We are racing now towards completion for fall of 2024. We’re extremely excited about that. 

Q. That’s a little bit earlier than expected. 

A. It is. We’ve been pushing very hard. It’s a long, complex construction project, but we have been very, very lucky with a great relationship with the city, great contractors, and great subcontractors here in the market that we’ve been able to accelerate construction and open fall of 2024. 

Q. What’s been complex about it?

A. Just the scale of the hospital. I mean, it’s what I would consider a mega project, being valued over $1.5 billion. So, it’s the scale of it, number one, but any hospital is just a complex undertaking.

Q. What kind of challenges do you come across when you’re designing and constructing a project that won’t be used until years later, as far as technological or medical advances are concerned? 

A. We started designing around 2017. So, you know, five years ago we were in design. We open in the fall of 2024, so I mean that’s seven-plus years. You start to design around something from a medical equipment standpoint … all that infrastructure, we just try to approximate what’s going to be in the future. Then we try to delay the buy. We don’t typically want to buy our medical equipment until the very end. We don’t want to buy our computers and our audiovisual equipment and all the patient engagement and everything else until the very end. 

The challenge that we have in this market is with the microchip shortage globally, we’re having to move up the buy. So, we started buying, at a pretty accelerated pace, all of our medical equipment, all of our computer systems, all the network equipment, just to make sure that we can actually get it in time of us opening. It’s been an interesting challenge that none of us have really ever seen before in the market.

Q. What are some of the features or aspects of the upcoming building that make it unique? 

A. I think the biggest thing is the environment that we’re trying to create. This is a replacement hospital for Egleston, which sits on seven acres in the heart of Emory’s campus – very concrete, just not a lot of room, right? We’re moving to a campus that has over 78 acres, of which we’re reserving 20 acres specifically for green space. I think that in itself has made this such a transformational healthcare project. Not just for Children’s, but really for what we see here across the state and throughout the country.

Having that much land and then having the 20 acres of greenspace reserved for gardens, and the ability for people to go outside is pretty big. We’ve got three miles of walking trails that will be on our campus, which is connected to the Peachtree Creek Greenway through some sidewalks that we’ve been working together with Brookhaven to create. 

Just that aspect alone is incredible, but then bringing that nature feel into the building through architecture, through interior design, through selection of materials and our sustainable approach to the campus, I think that is something special. 

Q. What sort of impact will this property have for Brookhaven once it’s completed? 

A. Brookhaven has been such an incredible partner through this journey with us – and it really has been a journey, starting with annexation into the city, and then working through a very large campus expansion, and  being able to partner with them and with several state agencies – the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Georgia Department of Transportation, and others – to create a holistic approach to the campus. 

Traffic is a huge concern in this area … [We’re] bringing to the table traffic and infrastructure improvements that are really going to transform what would be the southern gateway into Brookhaven. I think that’s just going to be a game changer, not just for us but for the city as well. Improvements at North Druid Hills Road and I-85, which are coming soon through GDOT, that’s going to be pretty special. 

Q. Brookhaven has Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory’s Executive Park right across the street. How do you think the city is going to evolve as a market in the healthcare industry? 

You know, it’s hard to say what the future looks like. I think for us, having the 78 acres here, this is a 100-plus year campus. Children’s is planting our flag here at North Druid Hills. Same thing with Emory. I think it’s only natural that you’ll see a tremendous amount of development that starts to happen around this area – Brookhaven, DeKalb County, and out from here. Will it be medical, will it be medical offices? Who knows what it will be. But I think we’re about to see. There’s all kinds of talk and there’s all kinds of planned developments already happening, but I think there’s going to be a fairly large amount of growth that starts to happen around our campus, as well as the Emory campus. 

Sammie Purcell

Sammie Purcell is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers.