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Major Milestone Reached on Construction of New St. John's University Building in Queens, N.Y.

Mon May 01, 2023 - Northeast Edition
St. John’s University

The last steel beam placed joins 1,137 columns and beams and 875 tons of steel being utilized in the foundation of the innovative learning space. (St. John's University photo)
The last steel beam placed joins 1,137 columns and beams and 875 tons of steel being utilized in the foundation of the innovative learning space. (St. John's University photo)

In a time-honored tradition held on the campus of St. John's University in Queens, N.Y., the final piece of steel in the construction of the innovative St. Vincent Health Sciences Center was hoisted three stories above a cheering crowd during a topping-off ceremony April 25.

Gathered to witness the milestone event were a mix of clergy, dignitaries, university trustees, administrators and faculty, as well as members of the design and construction teams from Boston-based Shawmut Design and Construction, and Chicago's CannonDesign, as well as organized labor partners — all united in the mission of advancing health-care education.

"St. John's is making a major investment in the health sciences and the people — like nurses and health-care providers who deliver extraordinary service to others — thus living our Vincentian mission," said Rev. Brian J. Shanley, the university's president, during his address to the crowd.

Scheduled to open in summer 2024, the new 70,000-sq.-ft. building will house existing and future health sciences programs while ushering in a new educational era at St. John's. The facility is designed to train future generations of health-care providers and caregivers not just for today's conditions, but for tomorrow's unimagined needs.

"Reaching the topping off milestone on the St. Vincent Health Sciences Center is an exciting accomplishment and we're incredibly grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with St. John's University, CannonDesign and our many trade partners to bring this vision to life," noted Dave Margolius, executive vice president of Shawmut's New York Metro region.

"At Shawmut, we believe that our passion for building must be grounded in a deeper purpose. As we reflect on the foundation of this project, we are proud to play our part in creating a space that embodies the university's values of compassion and service while advancing their mission to educate the next generation of caretakers, who will undoubtedly make extraordinary impacts in our communities."

The construction project at St. John's is estimated to cost $106 million and will likely become a major generator of economic activity in Queens County and its surrounding areas.

Last Beam Joined 1,137 Others to Form Structure's Skeleton

During the construction process, the last steel beam placed is a major milestone in the evolution of a building project. The landmark event is commemorated by painting the beam white and having the steel construction team, designers, property owners and dignitaries sign it for posterity.

Reminiscent of old-fashioned barn-raising celebrations, in the United States the beam in a topping-off ceremony is typically adorned with a small evergreen tree and an American flag. This custom celebrates the construction process and is viewed as the first introduction of the building to the public.

Against the backdrop of a clear blue sky, a crane slowly lifted the special beam and gingerly placed it into its permanent location as a rousing cheer erupted from the crowd. The beam joined 1,137 other columns and beams and 875 tons of steel already erected in the foundation of the innovative learning space.

The St. Vincent Health Sciences Center's new academic building will include active learning classrooms, laboratories, simulation facilities, office space and collaborative spaces. It will promote interprofessional education among existing academic programs to enable students to learn together and work as a team, like the real-world situation found in any clinical setting.

The building is centered on an interior, multi-story, social common space. This "living room" will act as the heart of the academic program and promote formal and informal interactions between students and faculty.

In addition, the leading-edge simulation facilities will allow St. John's students to learn in a safe, realistic, clinical environment before they begin clinical rotation assignments at off-campus sites. Flexible room layouts will accommodate a multitude of teaching and learning styles. Structural and mechanical systems will allow for reprogramming of the spaces within the building.

Building Designed With Energy Efficiency in Mind

The finished structure will make a positive contribution to the St. John's Climate Action Plan and also will utilize biophilic design (i.e., direct and indirect, connections to nature) material choices, and social spaces to provide a healthy and engaging place to study and work.

The Health Sciences Center will be heated and cooled using a geothermal field, which will include up to 66 wells drilled 499 ft. below ground. The geothermal energy it taps into is a renewable energy source that comes from reservoirs of hot water beneath the Earth's surface. With innovative applications in several economics sectors — electricity, industry and buildings — increased use of geothermal energy serves to decrease the use of fossil fuels and their resulting greenhouse gas emissions.

Ultramodern technology will control the building's lighting, space occupancy, and temperature. For example, an array of solar panels on the roof will further help reduce the energy consumption of the building, helping to make it one of the greenest on the St. John's campus.

Additionally, high-performance, energy-efficient windows will reduce thermal loss, and the elongated east-west floor plan of the building will maximize daylight while skylights will help reduce lighting usage by 22 percent during the day.

When complete, the St. Vincent Health Sciences Center will be a home for generations of caregivers, health-care professionals and individuals who are committed to improving the lives of others.

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