St. Clair Cancer Center

It’s one thing for an architect to design a home or office building with eye-catching features, designed-in functionality and even environmentally friendly items such as green roofs. It’s quite another to design medical facilities for technology that hasn’t even been invented yet.

It’s this sort of work that has become the focus for Image Associates architects, led by president M. Craig Allen of Foxland Drive (on right in photograph) and Tom Teti of Pinetree Road. The architects, who have worked together for 27 years, have designed many recognizable sites, including the David Physical Therapy Building on Castle Shannon Boulevard, the two-story addition to the Bognar Building and the medical offices of St. Clair affiliates Fatigati-Nalin.

Now Allen is working on a 1,805-square-foot addition to the UPMC-St. Clair Cancer Center, which is adjacent to the hospital on Bower Hill Road. The 8,000-square-foot center, which opened in 2002, includes a linear accelerator to deliver radiation each day to 50 patients with just about any type of cancer. But now the hospital plans to add another accelerator to double patient volumes. Design is tricky because the accelerator is housed in a concrete vault with walls up to eight feet thick.

Planning for the multimillion dollar expansion started last July and completion is scheduled for June. St. Clair’s senior vice president and chief operating officer Mike Flanagan says the center will continue to take all types of insurance, regardless of any contractual changes between Highmark and UPMC.

Flanagan and Barry Deems, facility consultant for St. Clair, and Kelly Kassab, senior director of operations for UPMC Cancer Center for radiation oncology, all say Allen is a natural choice to work on the project because of his previous high quality work with both St. Clair and UPMC. “It just seemed like the right choice for us,” Kassab says.

The job is a challenge because Allen must design an addition that hospital administrators want, while taking into account what doctors and nurses need to do their jobs. On top of that, they get input from staff, patients and focus groups. “The key is to take all these divergent interests and focus them to a point,” Allen says.

Kassab also says Allen will work with physicists on the intricacies of the vault.

While Allen does have an architecture degree, much of what he learned was on-the-job, since health care design is such a niche. Allen works with medical pioneers who are designing devices, a tricky thing since he doesn’t have a working prototype to see. “We have to figure out how to do things that have never been done before,” he says. On top of that, he must follow many sets of codes, including regular building codes on top of specific health care codes and guidelines.

In the meantime, Mt. Lebanon residents—and anyone else—can continue to have complete cancer treatment at St. Clair, from diagnosis to imaging, chemo and radiation with the comfort of knowing neighbors helped shape that care.