A blueprint for success
For the past two decades, Brad Pollitt has been at the heart of every major construction project at UF Health Shands Hospital.
By Michelle Champalanne
During his undergraduate years at UF, Brad Pollitt, A.I.A., could be found spraying bugs and fixing creaky cabinet doors in quaint Diamond Village. It may seem like menial work, but for him, it set the stage for his future as an architect.
Now, more than 30 years later, Pollitt, the vice president of facilities for UF Health Shands, stands in his office tucked within the Facilities Administration Building, which overlooks Diamond Village, coincidentally where Pollitt’s son and daughter-in-law currently live.
“It’s something you don’t think about until you stand there for a moment and look up,” he said. “I was standing on the same sidewalk I stood on in 1978 and looking at the Children’s Hospital that wasn’t there then. It was one of those moments where you were just like, ‘Wow.’ You really start to think about the growth that’s taken place here.
“It’s a little overwhelming and humbling.”
During his years at UF Health, Pollitt has overseen hundreds of construction projects, from the Medical Plaza expansion to the development of the UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital.
“I’m always trying to understand where the next ‘empty chair’ is,” he said.
Pollitt keeps the “50-year view” of the campus in mind during any project. When approached about the need for a new building, Pollitt strategically searches for the perfect open spot. Because open space is limited, it’s crucial each project makes the most out of the minimum amount of lot space.
“I have to be very careful so the decisions I make today don’t impact that 50-year process,” he said.
Each project requires a different team, depending on the goals. Together, they let ideas grow and build creativity. Although Pollitt headlines the process, it’s always a team event, he said.
“If you’re smart, you surround yourself with people who have other things that you may lack but they’re strong in,” he said.
As UF Health expands, new buildings take on a modern feel with glass and steel features while also incorporating some traditional touches like brick accents. Pollitt addresses energy conservation by using recyclable or sustainable materials when possible.
The hard work pays off. In 2010, UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital became the first hospital in the Southeast to receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for its environmental and energy-efficient features.
One of Pollitt’s recent projects, the new UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital entrance, transforms the patient experience for young patients and their families. The renovations gave children and their families an entrance and space geared toward pediatric patients, helping them to feel more comfortable and at ease.
As part of the project, the construction company placed colorful stainless steel panels around the building’s windows, giving UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital a distinctive look.
“People either love it or hate it,” Pollitt said. “It’s unique. I haven’t seen anything like it in the U.S. or in the world.”
When Pollitt left Gainesville after college for El Paso, Texas, with his wife, he never thought he’d return to Alachua County, let alone Florida. In Texas, he worked in both hospitality and historic preservation as an architect.
But when his wife Marta’s job transferred her back to Gainesville, Pollitt joined the UF Health team as hospital architect in 1989. After switching roles, he rose to vice president of facilities in 2000. He said it’s a nontraditional field for an architect, but his position allows him to make design decisions for the long run. That isn’t something traditional architects do. Typically, they design a project and move onto the next one, he said. Instead, he’s involved in every step of the process and loves it.
“I like people and I like problem-solving,” he said. “That’s the challenge, but that’s also the fun part.”
Pollitt applies techniques he learned as a historic preservation coordinator to his job at UF Health, such as preventing future development problems or dealing with tricky maintenance issues on older buildings. This way of thinking pushes him to avoid risky issues that impact either the environment or the company later on, he said.
“Back at that time, hospitals weren’t really thinking about hospitality,” he said. “We really brought those two things together. That was a good time in the industry to apply what I learned in hospitality and apply it to hospitals to create a nicer environment for patients.”
Now, he’s been able to watch UF Health unfold for the past 25 years. Through his time here, Pollitt has overseen a number of buildings break ground and sprout up like flowers around campus.
“It’s neat to watch this progression over the years as things have transformed as leadership has transformed,” he said. “I’ve watched Shands change logos, colors,” he said.
Designing construction projects is just one tool in the expansion of UF Health’s reach, and it’s his job to provide the best tool possible, he said.
“After witnessing that history, it’s just awesome,” he said. “It’s exciting to be a part of this.”