UW Health American Center
This week UW Health is celebrating the grand opening of its new, 496,000 square foot American Center on Madison’s far northeast side. It’s a celebration years in the making – and not just for hospital staff.
“I’ve been working on it since September of 2013,” says Madison Water Utility project engineer Kelly Miess, who was tasked with enormous job of making sure there would be enough water to support the development.
“Had it been pretty much anywhere else, it would have been fine. It’s just that it’s in the far reaches of our distribution system ... There was one 16 inch water main serving that entire area. If there had been a break in that line, the entire area would be out of water.”
And it wasn’t just the new hospital that was a concern.
“There were already a whole bunch of business parks and hotels, and there are just going to be more,” Miess says. “It’s definitely a growing part of town. We had to get more water up there.”
So Madison Water Utility worked for the past two years to complete three major projects ahead of the American Center opening. Crews drilled a tunnel and ran water main beneath Highway 151 (see the video below), and completed a large main underneath Interstate 39/90. But that was just the beginning.

Going uphill
“Most people don’t understand the topography issue and the geographic barriers (on the far northeast side),” points out Madison Water Utility principal engineer Al Larson. “We have to cross I-90 and Highway 151, but it’s also uphill, so we can’t just cross them and open the valves. We have to put in pumps to push the water up. All of that comes into play in a project like this.”
The utility met the challenge by upgrading its northeast side booster pumping station, a project completed just weeks ago.
“Now there are four pumps total, two of them serve the low zone, two of them serve the new high zone,” Miess says, adding that upgrading the booster station also allowed the utility to increase water pressure for the nearby Bunker Hill neighborhood, which had experienced chronic low pressure for years.
The three projects cost a total of $3.5 million, and took hundreds of hours of planning and coordination.
“It hasn’t been easy. It’s taken years. We had to get easements, we had to go before the Water Board to get permission to do all these projects, we had to go through the public works process," Miess explains. "These are not simple projects. It’s been a pretty concerted effort.”
Larson insists the investment in water infrastructure on the northeast side is about much more than one hospital or one collection of business parks.
“This benefits the whole system, not just UW Hospital. They were driving the schedule, but they weren’t really driving the project …The operational flexibility and improvement to service – those benefits are really a big plus for our system.”

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