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Med School Rising

Since October 2014, eight construction cranes have towered over the UT’s most intense construction effort in decades: the creation of Dell Medical School and the medical district that will surround it. Get a view from the top.

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three-image collage of cranes over Dell Medical School construction site

The Dell Medical School site is a buzzing convergence of people, concrete, steel, machinery and well-conducted energy. The site, one of the largest in Austin, boasts eight cranes, moving in concert with one another.

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.

Overlapping cranes at the Dell Medical School construction site

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.

detail of construction site of Dell Medical School

Nearly 400 crew members are working on the Dell Medical School, making the site one of the largest construction projects in Austin.

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.

[Read about how Dell Med’s curriculum is unlike any other medical school’s.]

view of UT Tower through crane structure at Dell Medical School site

The cranes and half-built buildings on the Dell Medical School site rise from the ground, framing downtown high-rises, the Capitol and the UT Tower like enormous picture windows.

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.

[Subscribe to Dell Medical School’s e-newsletter for updates about the progress of the school.]

architectural rendering of future Dell Medical School

When Dell Medical School opens in summer 2016 it will be the centerpiece of the university’s new medical district, adjacent to the School of Nursing and Seton’s future teaching hospital, slated to open in 2017.

[Read more about the author and photographer’s long climb up the crane, plus other points of view, on the Dell Medical School blog.]