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Herbert Eye Institute Holds Off for Whole Deal

Gavin Herbert Eye Institute is working toward a September opening following a decision to take advantage of favorable construction prices by completing additional space at the new facility.

A portion of the institute’s intended 70,000 square feet on the campus of the University of California, Irvine, initially was planned as “shell space” that would be left with an unfinished interior to be completed later. UC Irvine officials recently authorized the completion of the entire facility, which is being financed by private donors and has raised more than $35 million of the project’s $39 million price tag.

“We bit the bullet on a little bit of a delay to get an even better building,” said Roger Steinert, director of the eye treatment and research institute and a UCI ophthalmology professor. “We’re unbelievably excited.”

The institute, built on a UCI-owned tract on Bison Avenue, had been scheduled to open in May. The decision to build out the shell space will result in a “much better space for clinical studies,” Steinert said.

“We had a modest space already allocated for that, but now we’ve been able to go to a full-blown clinical study center,” he said. “So we’ll be much better able to support a number of ongoing clinical studies.”

Pediatrics

The institute also will feature separate facilities for adult and pediatric treatment. The pediatric area wasn’t included in the original plan but has been added with the additional space.

Steinert said the institute is working with eye device makers and cabinet makers on configuring equipment in the pediatric areas “in a way that’s a little less intimidating” to children.

There also will be a nursing room for lactating mothers and a toddler-sized potty in the bathroom.

Other features of the Herbert institute include a Lasik refractive surgery center, an oculofacial plastic surgery center and more than 1,500 square feet of education and conference space. It also has an eye clinic.

Eighteen UCI clinicians and nine researchers on the campus will be part of the facility and additional hires are possible, Steinert said.

Orange County’s large eye-healthcare cluster has played a role as the institute is coming along.

James Mazzo, who will be stepping down as president of Santa Ana-based Abbott Medical Optics Inc., is a big supporter.

“Despite having some of the leading ophthalmic companies in the world, we have had a major gap here in Orange County without a facility like the [institute],” Mazzo said. “In addition, we have a tremendous number of ophthalmic surgeons who haven’t had a facility to conduct necessary research and see patients.”

Having an institute like Herbert is “critical” for the vision care sector, he said.

“Companies like Abbott Medical Optics and Allergan will benefit,” Mazzo added. “We do our research in-house [but] there will be opportunities to align with some great minds at the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute.”

Continue to Chair

Mazzo said he plans to continue as chair of the institute board after exiting Abbott Medical. “This is a passion of mine and I will continue to be associated with it,” he said.

Steinert called the county’s business community support for the Herbert institute “stunning.”

“We wouldn’t be able to do this project without the support of several dozen companies in Orange County that are oriented towards ophthalmology,” he said.

Bausch & Lomb Inc., the Rochester-based eye company with an estimated 175 employees in Aliso Viejo, donated much of the surgical equipment for the institute. Irvine-based Allergan Inc. has supported the clinical research area of the institute. And Alcon Inc., which has 850 workers in Irvine, “has been very generous in supporting residents’ education,” Steinert said.

Veteran eye-device executive Daniel McWard, a member of the institute’s steering committee, has been contacting the county’s smaller eye-device makers.

No State Money

No state money is being used on the project.

“We must raise 100% of the money from philanthropy,” he said

The institute is named for Gavin Herbert, chairman emeritus of Irvine-based Allergan, who with his mother, Josephine Gleis, gave a lead donation for project.

Others donors included Abbott Medical Optics, Allergan Foundation, George and Julia Argyros, Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, James and Esther Cavanaugh, and William and Marsha Link.

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