Burlingame hospital to ride quakes’ waves

Shake, rattle and roll.

Roll might be the operative word for the Mills-Peninsula Hospital’s planned $528 million medical center — called the “hospital of the future” by planners — which will be constructed on seismic technology that will allow the facility to withstand earthquakes comparable to the notorious 1906 San Francisco disaster.

The 450,000-square-foot facility, to be located next door to the current hospital at the corner of Trousdale Drive and El Camino Real, will sit on sliding bearings, separating the building from the ground and thereby providing a soft rolling effect during an earthquake. The bearings will be placed between the building’s foundation and its columns. Planners say that even in an 8.5-magnitude earthquake, the building will remain intact.

“With small earthquakes, you see bean cans flying off the shelf at the local Safeway,” said Oren Reinbolt, program manager of the Hospital Replacement Project. “Our building will not have that problem because it will move independently from the earth.”

Construction of the new facility began last year. Installation of the 176 stainless steel pendulum bearings at the construction site began Wednesday, which will make the planned hospital the first in the country to use them. The complex is expected to open its doors in 2010.

While major earthquakes will cause the hospital to slide in a more gentle fashion, minor earthquakes, such as the 4.2 tremor that hit Berkeley last month, will not even be felt, Reinbolt said.

“The building will move back and forth on top of the bearings,” he said. “In order to do that, you can’t have earth touching the building. In an earthquake, the bottom will move and the top will move at a much more lower rate.”

Project managers played a video simulation at a news conference Wednesday, showing how the structure will withstand an 8.0 shaker. In comparison, a building on a standard foundation crumbled almost immediately. “That’s exactly what we are trying to avoid,” Reinbolt said.

Total cost of the bearings is estimated at $3 million. Construction of a 30-inch space around all pipes and wiring to accommodate movement in the event of an earthquake will cost approximately $30 million, according to Larry Kollerer, senior project manager.

Reinbolt said the use of sliding bearings is gaining momentum among major projects in California. The international terminal at San Francisco International Airport and the Benicia-Martinez Bridge also sit on bearings.

The six-story hospital will hold about 243 beds, said Monique Beeler, Mills-Peninsula marketing director.

bfoley@examiner.com

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