On the east side of Route 128, next to the Tripadvisor Building, Boston Children’s Hospital’s new outpatient surgery center will begin to take shape later this year.
But for now, Children’s Hospital officials are happy enough to have dug a giant hole in the ground.
“Basically, we finished building this very big basement that goes down about 25 feet,” said Lisa Hogarty, senior vice president, real estate planning and development. “And we run most of the main utilities into the building that way.”
Hogarty said that work began on the new facility this past January with the important, if unsexy, work of hollowing out the foundation in anticipation of the more visible work to come.
“It’s called slurry wall construction technology,” Hogarty said. “It’s like you build a big bathtub and make sure nothing bad can get into your bathtub.”
But clearer indications of just how big a project this is are still to come.
“Now that we’re in the ground, hopefully, you’ll start to see steel probably starting in the fall,” she said.
This work represents the early stages in a major venture to build an ambulatory surgery center in Needham, the centerpiece of Boston Children’s Hospital’s three-pronged, $435 million expansion to raise its presence in the Boston suburbs. The Needham facility will be five stories high and take up 224,000 square feet. Children’s also plans an expansion of its existing Waltham campus and construction of a new facility featuring hospital support services such as cardiac testing, phlebotomy and radiology in Weymouth.
Construction on the Needham project should take two years, with a planned occupancy date of December 2025.
Needham’s location on Route 128 and near the Massachusetts Turnpike make it an attractive site for the center, Hogarty said, especially as Boston Children’s tries to improve access for patients living farther west of Boston.
The hospital sought “a site that was affordable, a site that was relatively easy to construct on,” Hogarty said. “But I think access was the No. 1. When we first saw that location, it was almost too good to be true.”
Needham is already home to upwards of 200 Boston Children’s staff, many of them doctors and nurses, making the location even more attractive. Hogarty said as recruitment begins in earnest to staff the new facility — roughly a year before completion — many of those new arrivals should also be expected to settle in Needham.
The new ambulatory surgery center, which will feature specialties including gastroenterology, ophthalmology, otolaryngology, audiology, and orthopedic surgery, will not have beds for regular overnight stays or an emergency room. Children’s will also expand an existing parking garage in the business park, adding more than 500 spaces.
Under its agreement with the town when zoning approvals were granted in 2020, once construction is complete and occupancy begins Children’s will make an annual Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) contribution to the town based on what a comparable office building would pay for that space. While that figure is not yet set as it will be based on tax rates and market conditions at that time, the annual PILOT is expected to be in the range of $1 million, according to Needham Director of Communications and Community Engagement Amy Haelsen.
The hospital also paid the town $1,835,000 when the building permit was issued in February 2023 and made an additional $200,000 payment to support youth health initiatives in town as part of the host agreement; the youth services payment will become annual upon occupancy.
“We work very closely with educators and the school systems in any of the jurisdictions where we’re located, working with the superintendent of schools in Needham and with, lately, a particular focus on behavioral health — that crisis that was brewing and now really has been exacerbated because of the pandemic” said Hogarty. “So, we look forward to working closely with town leadership to support kids in the school system, however we can.”
Needham resident Daniel Barbarisi is a senior editor at The Athletic and a non-fiction author.