Duluth News Tribune

By Laura Butterbrodt

Essentia Health celebrated the placement of the uppermost steel beam on its Vision Northland project with a "topping-out" ceremony Tuesday afternoon. The beam will form the helipad platform on the highest level of Vision Northland.

The beam was raised with an American flag and an evergreen tree atop it. The tree, according to McGough Executive Vice President of Project Management Jeff Dzurik, symbolizes the birth of the new building, good luck for future occupants, continued growth in concert with the environment and a safe job well done. The topping-out ceremony is an ironworker tradition.

The beam features a medallion with a Benedictine cross, which is a duplicate of the cross on Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center. Sister Beverly Raway said the cross and initials CSPB, which stand for "Cross of Our Holy Father Benedict" in Latin, represent protection from storms, defense against contagious diseases, assistance in safe delivery for expectant mothers and support at the hour of death. In addition to the cross, the beam bears a plaque in memory of Michael Mahoney, former Essentia vice president of public policy, who died of cancer in August 2019.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., attended the ceremony and said the construction of the health care center amid the coronavirus pandemic has given people a future to believe in.

“You did this in the middle of a pandemic as people valued health care like never before, and saw the sacrifices of your workers,” Klobuchar said.

She said she holds health care workers in high regard as both her husband and late father battled COVID-19 hospitalizations over the last two years.

Essentia Health Chief Executive Officer David Herman reminisced back to March 25, 2020, when Gov. Tim Walz issued the executive order to stop all nonessential work. Herman remembered waiting to hear from Walz’s chief of staff about whether work on Vision Northland would be considered essential.

“The only medical analogy I can give to that is when a baby is born and you’re waiting for that first breath,” Herman said. “We waited about 10 minutes and he said, ‘Nope, it’s vital work.’ So I didn’t require resuscitation and the project didn’t require resuscitation and we moved forward.”

Walz, who recorded a video to air at the ceremony, said Essentia has demonstrated continued commitment to providing high-value, affordable health care with its work on Vision Northland, and he thanked frontline health care and construction workers for their time working through the pandemic.

“As governor, I’m incredibly grateful to Essentia Health for their partnership and tireless commitment to the health, safety and wellbeing of all Minnesotans,” Walz said. “This project is a win for Minnesotans, the city of Duluth and the Arrowhead region.”

In addition to the American flag, the ceremonial beam was also raised flying a Minnesota Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program flag to symbolize the project going above and beyond the Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards. Only one lost-time accident has occurred at Vision Northland, and Dzurik said that individual has fully recovered and is back at work with no restrictions.

The $900 million Vision Northland Project broke ground Sept. 11, 2019, and is expected to be completed in spring of 2023 and open to patients that fall. The structure stands 340 feet tall from Superior Street, 296 feet tall from First Street and 292 feet tall from Second Street. Vision Northland contains more than 12,000 tons of structural steel and will be 942,000 square feet when complete. According to David Gaddie, chair of the Essentia Health board of directors, construction is approximately 53% complete.

Essentia Health President Jon Pryor, Vision Northland Physician Lead Robert Erickson, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson, and Bishop Daniel Felton of the Diocese of Duluth also spoke at the ceremony.