It's been a pretty interesting 48 hours or so in the ongoing debate over whether to build a new LSU/VA super complex or to rehabilitate Charity. Let's review, shall we?
On Wednesday, and Adrastros has a good political take on this, righty pundit John Maginnis wrote a column taking Governor Bobby Jindal to task for his poor leadership, citing a pattern of political cowardice. He sneaks in the LSU/VA controversy as exhibit C toward the bottom of the article:
Jindal also supports LSU's plan for a new teaching hospital in New Orleans, but you wouldn't know it from his silence while preservationists accuse state health-care officials of plotting to destroy a neighborhood alleged to be historic.
Maybe I'm nitpicking, but the neighborhood is not "alleged to be historic." It's a nationally registered historic district as part of the Mid City Historic District. This isn't something that preservationists are just making up or alleging to suit the needs to their argument; the Mid City Historic District was designated way back in 1993. The hospital proposal threatens 145 historic buildings. It's a fact. But either way, it rhetorically reduces the argument against the LSU/VA complex to the aesthetic complaints of those nerdy historians when, in actuality, the opponents of the LSU plan center their arguments on things like fiscal responsibility, transparency, and the city's public health emergency.
Coincidentally or not, Jindal turned around and within 24 hours, was on the tv 'reaffirming his support' for the LSU/VA.
But where some saw certainty, there's actually some surprising equivocation:
He said that renovating Charity is out of the picture. “My commitment hasn’t changed. Our support hasn’t changed,” Jindal said, adding the only way they'd renovate is “if LSU were all of a sudden to come back and say, ‘you know what, we’ve talked to engineers, we’ve talked to architects, we think we can build a great, modern hospital within the old footprint.’” “My point is this: I continue to support the fact that we need a modern hospital that is connected to the VA, that’s a home for not only patient care – which is absolutely critical – but graduate medical education and cutting-edge research,” Jindal said.
He said that renovating Charity is out of the picture.
“My commitment hasn’t changed. Our support hasn’t changed,” Jindal said, adding the only way they'd renovate is “if LSU were all of a sudden to come back and say, ‘you know what, we’ve talked to engineers, we’ve talked to architects, we think we can build a great, modern hospital within the old footprint.’”
“My point is this: I continue to support the fact that we need a modern hospital that is connected to the VA, that’s a home for not only patient care – which is absolutely critical – but graduate medical education and cutting-edge research,” Jindal said.
How very interesting. Jindal reaffirms his support for a robust biomedical district anchored by a modern teaching hospital and pledges his support for the LSU plan. But he does not explicitly rule out the rebuilding of a hospital in Charity. He just says that the decision is up to LSU.
Now why would he say something like that? Why would he even create that daylight?
In fact, world-renown architects and engineers have already evaluated the Charity footprint. RMJM Hillier, the world's 6th largest architecture and design firm, found that the old limestone shell of Charity remains not just structurally sound, but ideal for a "great, modern hospital."
In fact, an objective side-by-side comparison of the LSU proposal and the RMJM Hillier proposal yields a clear conclusion.
New Orleans can have a state-of-the-art biomedical development corridor faster, cheaper, and better based on the Hillier model. By building a state of the art facility in the Charity shell, New Orleans can attract economic development, restore public health infrastructure, and make the Central Business District more robust, all while avoiding the demolition of a historic residential neighborhood.
LSU has argued that their teaching hospital needs to be connected to the VA. Why? Why do the hospitals need to be connected? Are they sharing facilities?
Not really. In fact, there is no compelling reason why these hospitals need to be directly adjacent instead of two blocks away.
What is it about the Charity building that makes it incongruous with a modern facility?
Nothing. In fact, the RMJM Hillier plan does not plan to preserve Charity's interior or anything about the outdated ward layout. They propose preserving the solid limestone exterior while building an entirely brand-new facility inside.
LSU has never taken the time to properly evaluate the structure of Charity. One of their major claims by LSU is that Charity is unsound structurally because of rusted connectors in the limestone shell of the building.
In fact, RMJM Hillier took a thermal image of the building and found that the building wasn't even constructed with connectors.
And so on and so forth.
The LSU/VA project will not go forward as currently proposed.
Residents, public health advocates, smart growth planners, preservationists, and civil rights activists will fight this every single step of the way.
LSU does not have the money, LSU does not have the argument, and LSU does not have the right.
And our city doesn't have the time. We can't afford for them to cling to their disproved model when everybody else is willing to compromise with this alternative proposal. We could start building next year instead of next century.
If LSU would just take an honest look at RMJM Hillier's plan or even bother to show up at one of the countless public forums that have been held on the matter to defend their plan, they might have some credibility. But they haven't and they don't.
We can have a state-of-the-art hospital district sometime before the end of next decade if LSU would just reevaluate Charity and admit that rebuilding on that site is the smarter, better, cheaper, and faster way to bring back medical care to New Orleans.
And to me, it looks like Bobby Jindal is willing to support that compromise as soon as LSU gets its own head out of the sand.
So you tell me who's the obstructionist here?
Is it the diverse partnerships that have already rallied around a compromise proposal?
Or is it really just LSU that can't get its sh*t together?