When the John A. Moran Eye Center was wooing Dr. David Apple and other researchers, its director, Dr. Randall J. Olson, talked about the cutting-edge research being done there, the diversity of both staff and patient base, each a "mini-United Nations." He spoke of the community support, the sheer excellence of the care the center provides.
He couldn't brag too much about the digs Apple, then director of the Storm Eye Institute at the Medical University of South Carolina, and his team of researchers would occupy: a trailer just south of the Moran Eye Center on the upper University of Utah campus. And they're lucky. They're at least physically close to the eye center.
In his role as director of the center and chairman of ophthalmology at the U., Olson's been "using wily tricks," calling in favors, begging and borrowing space for his researchers to the point he's not kidding when he notes, good-naturedly, that the Moran Eye Center has "more people doing research outside Moran than in."
That's all about to change. The center already has raised about $40 million of the $53 million it needs for a new facility. Preliminary plans have been drawn up, the location locked in just south of Primary Children's Medical Center, conveniently right off the new TRAX line, a special boon for vision-impaired patients. Olson believes they'll break ground by next spring and move in during late 2005 or early 2006.
It's to be a visual feast, in more ways than one, with glass walls, elevated walkways, an atrium and a sensory garden out back.
Olson gave the Deseret Morning News a computer "fly-through" of plans for the more than 200,000-square-foot, mostly glass-enclosed building, which promises one of the finest views of the Salt Lake Valley.
"It's a major structure we think will do everything we need for the next 20 years," Olson said.
The existing Moran Eye Center is, at age 10, a victim of its placement, landlocked with no room to grow. Though at 82,500 square feet it's reportedly the largest eye care and vision research center between Texas and the West Coast, it has become too small. When Moran moves, the U. will gladly take the vacated space to allow other cramped programs to stretch.
Olson said moving there a decade ago was a little like buying a computer. You know there's something a little better down the road. "We knew we were short on research space and the clinic space was tight," but it was available at a time of great need and has served the community well, he said.
With the new building Moran will be one of the biggest eye complexes in the world. It's already recognized as one of the best, with patients flying in from all over the world to be treated. Staff includes experts in many aspects of treatment and research, including genetics, transplantation, disease processes, adult stem cells, artificial vision, basic eye care. The center is particularly strong with retinal degenerative diseases and treats patients of all ages.
In 2002, the center and its 10 satellite clinics had more than 81,000 patient visits, and nearly 5,000 surgeries were performed in its four surgical suites. Its researchers were part of more than 25 active clinical trials.
The new building's design has two distinct sides, a five-story clinical pavilion and six floors of research, all separated by a glassed-in atrium. The actual clinic occupies two floors. The clinic and surgery center each get as much as 40 percent more space. The research space triples, taking up half the new facility.