July 25, 2008

Final Girders in Place for New Cancer Hospital

By Abram Katz, New Haven Register, Conn.

Jul. 25--The final three girders of the Smilow Cancer Hospital were hoisted into place Thursday afternoon, completing the skeleton of a 14-story structure that will house research and treatment, and is already one of the biggest get-well cards in the world.

As the $469 million structure grew after ground was broken in 2006, iron workers began to paint encouraging messages on girders facing the Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital oncology floor.

They sprayed "Hope is Coming" on steel beams as the new hospital rose. The words of kindness buoyed the spirits of Nick Branca of Milford, who was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer when he was 3.

Nick, who is in treatment at the Children's Hospital for a recurrence of neuroblastoma, is now 6. Wearing a white hard hat, he was at the ceremony, climbing on and clinging to his father, Jeffrey Branca.

He was given the honor of sounding an aerosol fog horn, signaling the construction workers to raise the girders.

The first girder carried the signatures of all the construction workers, the second bore the names of Nick's classmates at the Meadowside Elementary School in Milford, and the third was signed by Yale-New Haven workers involved in the project.

The big girder at the end carried the traditional topping off Christmas tree, which represents strength and flexibility, an iron worker said.

After a brief succession of remarks from the president and chief executive officer of Yale-New Haven Hospital, the dean of the Yale Medical School, the commissioner of the State Department of Public Health and benefactor Joel E. Smilow, it was time for the fog horn.

Nick, on his father's large frame, and Smilow grabbed the can and an ear-piercing blast ensued.

Girders quickly rose out of sight, to become part of the 14th floor, or a "penthouse" on the roof that will house air-conditioning and other mechanical equipment.

When the 497,000-square-foot building is finished and expected to be open in March 2010, all of the names and signs of encouragement will be hidden beneath concrete and behind a terra cotta facade.

The lower six floors, which will be occupied first, will be devoted to outpatient services, including a women's cancer center. Floors seven through 14 will house inpatients.

"This is an incredibly special event," said Yale-New Haven President Marna P. Borgstrom.

"You're one incredible guy and an inspiration to us all," she said in Nick's direction. "We will make this one of the top cancer treatment centers in the nation, if not the world."

Dr. Robert J. Alpern, also speaking in the vast concrete cavern that will eventually will be a grand lobby, said the new building will allow Yale to become the leader in cancer research, treatment, and education of medical students.

"Thirty years ago people talked about a cure, but nobody really believed it," he said. "Now it's not a question of whether, but of when."


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