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Posted on Sun, Feb 28, 2010 : 5:45 a.m.

$132 million tower boosts capacity for University of Michigan's Kellogg Eye Center by 50%

By Nathan Bomey

It’s a visual the University of Michigan’s eye doctors have been waiting years to see.

Their new facility - a $132 million, 8-story, 230,000-square-foot research and clinical structure on Wall Street in Ann Arbor - will welcome patients Monday.

It’s a certifiable moment of déjà vu for Paul Lichter, the longtime director of U-M’s W.K. Kellogg Eye Center and chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.

This is his second time leading the pursuit of a new facility for the Kellogg Eye Center. The last time? 1985. He said he realized sometime around 1998 or 1999 that the center would need more space.

“Even though our space was old, it was still very functional. But it was too tight. It was too small and it wasn’t as nice for patients as we knew it could be, no question,” Lichter said. “The fact that it was tight didn’t allow us the space to have enough clinics.”

U-M is spending this weekend transferring furniture, computers and equipment from the old building to the new facility - called the Brehm Tower - next door.

Parts of the old 3-building facility - which includes a converted nursing home and geriatric center - may be demolished, Lichter said, perhaps in favor of a parking lot.

The new structure - designed by architectural firm TSA of Massachusetts - gives the Kellogg Eye Center about 50 percent more capacity than its previous facility. It includes:

* Seven eye care clinics with new suites to house refractive and cosmetic surgery.

* Six new spacious, high-tech operating rooms, up from four at the previous facility. The operating rooms include high-definition screen and monitoring rooms.

* New labs designed to house research for the Brehm Center for Diabetes Research. Diabetes can lead to vision loss.

* 73 exam rooms, up from 50 at the previous facility.

* Larger waiting areas, spacious clinical areas and additional exam rooms.

U-M expects to add about 100 jobs over the next five to seven years to staff its increased capacity.

Eye care facts

  • More than 4 million U.S. residents suffer from dry eye.
  • 1.8 million people undergo cataract surgery annually.
  • Some 4.3 million Americans ages have glaucoma, but about 2 million don’t know it.
  • About 10 million Americans 50 and older have advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which can lead to vision loss.
  • U.S. doctors perform more than 40,000 corneal transplants each year. It’s the most common transplant procedure.

Driving the growth: demographic shifts. As the population ages - more than 20 percent of the U.S. population will be 65 or older by 2030 - demand for eye care clinics and scientific advancements will intensify.

The shift is already playing out: From 1985 to 2009, the number of outpatient visits at U-M’s Kellogg Eye Center more than doubled from 36,852 to 78,313. Kellogg doctors performed 3,795 surgeries in 2009.

“Eye disease and diabetes both pose growing challenges to our nation’s health, and Kellogg and Brehm scientists will help us continue to lead the way in both fields,” said Ora Pescovitz U-M Health System CEO and Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, in a statement.

The tower is named after Virginia couple Delores S. and William K. Brehm, who donated $44 million to U-M in November 2004. Some $30 million of that was dedicated for this project.

The Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences raised $10 million in donations to support the expansion, and U-M provided additional funds from the accounts of the U-M Hospitals and Health Centers.

The ample space for collaborative research initiatives at the new facility is a key element in the university’s research vision.

U-M is actively pursuing new multidisciplinary research programs that place scientists with different research skills side-by-side in hopes of discovering new therapies.

“There’s great opportunity for communication between scientists” in the new lab space, Lichter said.

Among the new research initiatives U-M believes it can expand: its focus on developing therapies to treat Grave’s eye disease, which leads to a bulging eye and is associated with a thyroid disorder.

“It’s geared up now to be a program that has cutting-edge treatments,” Lichter said. “It will be a destination program here.”

But the new facility is also equipped to handle routine eye checkups and appointments. In fact, it’s central to U-M’s mission.

Using ambient light, artwork and various creative design elements, the facility aims to soothe patients who are nervous about their appointment.

Still, buildings can only do so much. Doctors are still the centerpiece of the patient experience.

“Coming to the doctor has some tension to it. It’s something we don’t want to do,” Lichter said. “I think coming to a friendly environment and being seen by friendly people who care about you makes it better and gives you a warm feeling.”

Contact’s Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or or follow him on Twitter. You can also subscribe to Business Review's weekly e-newsletter or the upcoming breaking business news e-newsletter.


Frank Hilberer

Mon, Mar 1, 2010 : 11:05 a.m.

Very nice building, but those who will need it the most won't be able to afford it. U of M salaried employees loose their vision care benefits 18 months after they retire. As the demographics point out people age 65 and older will require more eye care. Shame on the university for removing a benefit vital to this age group.


Mon, Mar 1, 2010 : 10:24 a.m.

Still no mention of Gilbane/Clark Joint Venture...the guys who've been working hard for 3 years...and are still working... to bring the vision to real life.


Sun, Feb 28, 2010 : 10:13 a.m.

Hail to the Victors!