By Wally Kennedy
JOPLIN, Mo. —
With the experience that comes from doing something over and over again, the crane operator lifted the final steel beam to the top of the seven-story patient tower, where ironworkers quickly fastened it into place.
On the ground below, a cheer went up among dozens of workers who were watching the historic moment: the topping out of Mercy Hospital Joplin.
On the beam were the signatures of hundreds of hospital employees, many of whom had worked at the former St. John’s Regional Medical Center, which took a direct hit from the May 22, 2011, tornado.
Also lifted to the top of the structure were an American flag and an evergreen sapling. The significance of the sapling was explained during a ceremony Thursday afternoon that preceded the lifting of the beam.
“The evergreen symbolizes a tradition that this has been a good job with no loss of life,” said John Farnen, project manager for Sisters of Mercy Health System. “It also is said to bring prosperity and longevity to the occupants.”
Gathered under a tent warmed with portable heaters near the base of the hospital at 50th Street and Hearnes Boulevard, speakers said the steel structure was symbolic of the mission of Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy.
“Catherine McAuley said, ‘Proof of love is deed,”’ said Gary Pulsipher, president of Mercy Hospital Joplin. “This structure testifies to the truth of that thought.”
Pulsipher said that within days of the tornado, hospital workers were back on the job in a temporary tent hospital. After that, they were working in trailers while a new component hospital was being constructed. It opened early last year. The new hospital is to be completed two years from now in the spring of 2015.
In a statement released by McCarthy Building Cos., Stephen Meuschke, project manager for McCarthy, said, “We will have the new replacement hospital open three and a half years after the tornado hit Joplin, which is approximately half the time you would normally anticipate to plan, design and construct a similar size hospital.”
McCarthy began working with Mercy planners to develop the functional program for the replacement hospital in July 2011 and completed the program three months later. The functional team included the architectural firms of Archimages, HKS, and Heideman & Associates.
Interior work began in December on the lower floors of the hospital and will begin this spring in the two towers.
For those attending the ceremony, Farnen provided details about the scope of the project. The hospital is supported by 325 piers that are up to 80 feet deep. One million cubic yards of soil and rock have been moved. That’s equal to 100,000 dump trucks of material. There are 6,000 pieces of steel in the structure. More than 400,000 square feet of concrete flooring will be poured, which is enough to build 200 houses. More than 700 miles of wire will be used, which is enough to rig a zip line from Joplin to New Orleans, La.
The hospital, he said, is affecting the local economy, with 75 percent of the work force being local. There are about 200 people on site. That number will grow to 600 as the hospital nears completion. More than $2 million has been spent on miscellaneous items purchased locally. Local builders have received $30 million worth of contracts.
Lynn Britton, president of Sisters of Mercy Health System, said he recently attended the National Prayer Breakfast and met with leaders from around the world. The mention of Mercy and Missouri triggered questions about Joplin and the post-tornado progress that is being made.
“The world is watching you,” Britton said.
He noted that the neonatal intensive care unit in the hospital is being funded by the United Arab Emirates.
Rob O’Brian, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, said Catherine McAuley was known for creating “a house of prosperity, caring and education” in Dublin, Ireland, in the 1820s. He thanked Mercy for bringing the same kind of place to Joplin.
Janet Gentry lived in a home along Indiana Avenue on the east side of the hospital site for 36 years. She and her horses were the last to move from the construction site in July of last year. She has relocated to a farm eight miles south of Joplin.
Seeing the hospital up close for the first time was staggering.
“It looks huge to me,” Gentry said. “This whole area is so different now, and it’s going to change even more. It’s going to take a while to get used to it.”
McCARTHY BUILDING COS. broke ground in January 2012 for the 875,000-square-foot, 260-plus private room hospital. The bottom three floors include hospital space, with a seven-story patient tower and a four-story clinic tower rising above the hospital space. A separate 30,000-square-foot central utility plant is connected to the main structure by a 450-foot underground tunnel. The building’s exterior is to be completed in November 2013, the central utility plant will be operational by January 2014, and the main structure is expected to open in March 2015.