BURLINGTON — Hundreds of community members gathered Wednesday to celebrate a milestone in the construction of the $187.7 million Robert E. and Holly D. Miller Building at the University of Vermont Medical Center.
The event, called a “topping off” ceremony, recognized the efforts of construction employees as the final structural beam was raised. Eighty-seven percent of the workers involved with the project are Vermonters, according to the hospital.
“It’s wonderful to be here with all the people who have helped us reach this milestone,” said Dr. John Brumsted, president and CEO of the UVM Health Network and CEO of the UVM Medical Center.
“This includes employees, architects, and patient and family volunteers who shaped the design; engineers and construction workers who have already put in thousands of hours in all types of weather; donors who are helping to make it all possible; and many physicians, nurses and staff who in just two short years will be delivering quality and compassionate care in the Miller building.”
The building will connect with the existing medical center and house 128 private patient rooms, replacing double-occupancy rooms in current areas. The addition will mean 85 to 90 percent of the hospital’s medical beds will be in one-person rooms. Only 30 percent of medical and surgical beds are currently in private rooms.
“We know patients heal faster when they have privacy, space for their families, updated technology and a healing environment that single-bed rooms provide,” said Eileen Whalen, a registered nurse who is president and chief operating officer of the UVM Medical Center.
The seven-floor stone and glass building will have 180,000 square feet. Of the total cost, $30 million is being covered by fundraising efforts.
Construction began in spring 2016, and officials expect the building to be completed and occupied by summer 2019. Now that the steel skeleton structure of the building is complete, masons and other workers will construct the stone walls and interior.
Marty Pigeon, supervisor at North Stars Masonry of St. Albans, one of the contractors involved, said the local employees feel a close connection to the medical center.
“Most of us who are part of a job like this, whether we are a carpenter, a steelworker, a painter or a mason, we all share one thing in common,” Pigeon said. “Once this project is complete, year after year we will drive by and say, ‘I did that.’”
Several local community leaders and government officials, including Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, were at the event.
The “topping off” ceremony echoes a longtime Scandinavian tradition of placing an evergreen tree on top of a new home for good luck. The tree species is considered a symbol of strength and life because of its ability to survive the cold winter.
After the conclusion of remarks Wednesday, workers used a crane to lift the final beam, signed by all the construction employees, to the top of the structure. The final steel segment was raised into the sky along with an American flag, a Vermont flag and a small tamarack tree.