by Zach Read - email@example.com
Two years ago UNC Health Care held a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of its Hillsborough Campus. The occasion marked the start of construction of the 60,000-square-foot Medical Office Building and the 256,000-square-foot hospital—a facility that will serve not only Orange County, but surrounding counties and much of North Carolina.
Since that time, significant progress has been made on the Waterstone Drive site: the Medical Office Building is nearly complete—it’s set to open in July 2013—and construction of the hospital has reached the halfway point, with the building set to open, on schedule, in 2015.
To celebrate the “topping out” of the construction of the hospital, on Thursday, May 2, Skanska USA, the general contractor, hosted a ceremony before approximately 300 people, including representatives from UNC Health Care, Town of Hillsborough, and Skanska. Many attendees signed the final beam of the hospital—a piece of Carolina blue steel—and watched as it was hoisted to the building’s peak. Attached to the beam were a small evergreen tree—a builder’s symbol of growth and good luck—a UNC Health Care Hillsborough Campus banner, and an American flag.
“The town of Hillsborough has been fabulous to work with” said Ray Lafrenaye, vice president of facility planning for UNC Health Care. “Hillsborough has really embraced us and treated us as a partner in the whole process.”
Steve Strouthamer, executive vice president and general manager at Skanska, has worked closely with UNC Health Care, the subcontractors involved, and Hillsborough officials to maintain the project schedule. Meeting the needs of Hillsborough, in particular, has been a key objective for Strouthamer and Skanska.
“You can’t come into a new community and build a building of this size and think you’re not going to be noticed,” said Strouthamer. “So we’ve tried to be open with the process and demonstrate that there’s nothing to hide. We constantly give tours, not just for the hospital system but for community leaders as well….By showing them how the work is getting done we’ve seen excitement in the community build.”
Hillsborough officials are already preparing for the impact of UNC Health Care’s Hillsborough Campus on the surrounding homes and neighborhoods, as well as on Hillsborough’s historic downtown, which sits a couple miles north.
“We’re looking forward to the opportunity for growth,” said Margaret Wood Cannell, executive director of the Hillsborough/Orange County Chamber of Commerce. “UNC Health Care Hillsborough Campus will be a wonderful economic engine for the entire community. With the businesses that will go along with it, including medical offices, drug stores, hotels, restaurants, and other places that serve the needs of patients and their families, it’s going to be a great driver of development here at Waterstone and in Hillsborough.”
Hillsborough’s mayor, Tom Stevens, envisions the hospital taking the community in a new and important direction.
“We always think about keeping our small town character, but we also see this as a living, growing, thriving community,” said Stevens. “We like having the mix of professional and other kinds of businesses, and I think the hospital campus fits in beautifully and will be a great addition to Waterstone, the town, and the greater Orange County communities.”
Lafrenaye considers the various elements at play in the Hillsborough construction to be unique; while small, historic towns can prove more difficult for construction projects, the Hillsborough Campus location is the perfect place for an extension of UNC Health Care.
“The beautiful part about this site is that it’s right against I-40 and near I-85,” he said. “The location will allow it to serve people from eastern and western North Carolina, and from north and south in North Carolina. People from all over the state can filter into this one site and not negatively impact the historic nature of the town, but instead contribute to it. It’s an unusual marriage.”
The Hillsborough hospital’s opening in 2015 will relocate 50 acute care beds from UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill while at the same time extend the footprint of UNC Health Care and serve greater numbers of citizens, including those, Lefrenaye believes, who will be moving to North Carolina.
“You’re starting to see people able to sell their houses up north,” said Lafrenaye. “They want to move to a warmer climate, one that’s not really expensive, is safe, and has great health care. This is the kind of facility that’s going to take care of that influx of population.”
The Hillsborough business community has already begun to reap some of the benefits of the UNC Health Care and Skanska presence. Local favorite Hillsborough Barbecue Company catered the topping out ceremony, providing barbecue, green beans, mac and cheese, hushpuppies, and banana pudding. Other local contributors included Gephart Marketing Solutions, who provided hardhat squeeze toys as centerpieces for the lunch tables.
“I think one of the real estate tenets is ‘highest and best use,’” said Cannell. “I have to think that a community hospital serving patients and a hospital that serves a larger community in other ways is a wonderful use for this property.”