Since October 2014, eight construction cranes have towered over the southeast corner of campus. Standing more than 200 feet tall, they preside over UT’s most intense building effort in decades: the construction of the future Dell Medical School and transformation of the medical district that will surround it.
Every day, workers and machines scramble across the nearly 25-acre site. Rising from the ground, the cranes and half-built buildings frame downtown high-rises, the Capitol and the UT Tower like enormous picture windows.
The heart of the site seems noisier and busier than a theme park. Nearly 400 workers squeeze between the buildings, materials, equipment and each other. Machines move everywhere, and whistles constantly blow to warn workers about heavy objects hanging above. This chaotic choreography is what it takes to erect the nearly million square feet of classrooms, hospital rooms, offices and parking — along with bike racks, walking paths and green space.
That workforce, already one of the largest construction crews in Austin, will swell to nearly 750 later this year in a final push to complete most of the UT structures — including an education and administration building, medical office, research building and parking garage — in time to welcome the first Dell Medical School students in July 2016.
Then there’s the construction of the Dell Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas — a brand new, 211-bed, $295 million teaching hospital that the Seton Healthcare Family is funding and erecting among the UT buildings. Slated to open in 2017, it will function in partnership with UT and Central Health (Travis County’s health care district) as the Dell Medical School’s primary teaching hospital and Central Texas’ main safety-net hospital, replacing University Medical Center-Brackenridge.
Three of the eight cranes are dedicated to the hospital. All told, the cranes stand so closely together that the Venn-Diagram spots where their reaches overlap cover nearly half the construction area. The three construction teams, each working on different parts of the site (two for UT, one for Seton), coordinated the heights of the cranes to keep arms from bumping into each other. An on-site computer works as an air traffic controller, sending an alarm and hitting the brakes before cranes and cables can get tangled.
They all offer panoramic views of downtown Austin, the Capitol, the hills to the west, the UT Tower and Royal-Memorial Stadium — views of what Austin was and what it is. But looking down below — at the ant-like workers, the piles of metal and the footprints of buildings outlined in the dirt — there’s a glimpse of Austin’s future, set to debut in 12 short months.