A rendering of the University Medical Center, which will replace Charity Hospital.

Construction has started on the $1.2 billion University Medical Center in New Orleans, which will offer comprehensive treatment and trauma services as well as graduate medical education programs. The new medical center replaces Charity Hospital, which was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The new center will consist of seven structures comprising 1 million square feet of space, says Charles Zewe, vice president for communications and external affairs, Louisiana State University (LSU) System.

In addition to offering inpatient services and operating as the only Level 1 trauma center in the area, the medical center will host a cancer program that includes radiation therapy and a chemotherapy clinic, outpatient surgery, and imaging services.

The center will be built with structural steel and designed to meet flood-resistant construction standards to make it as hurricane-hardened as possible, according to the LSU Health System, which will operate the center.

The first floors of hospital and medical office buildings that house critical functions will be built 22 feet above sea level. Storm-proofing technology will enable the hospital to maintain operations for up to a week without backup supplies or outside support if a Category 3 hurricane or other disaster hit.

Zewe says construction is projected to be finished by late 2014; the center is expected to accept patients in early 2015. Charity Hospital's future is uncertain, he says.