Hospital construction very nearly complete

Opening day for $256M facility now is less than three weeks away.

After two years of construction, workers are putting final touches on the $256 million hospital that planners hope will revitalize downtown Springfield.

The coffee shop at the back of the lobby is open and serving pastries to workers. The four trauma beds in the emergency room are stocked with gleaming equipment like that found in TV shows. But all the beds are empty, awaiting their first patients Nov. 14.

Lettering on the building’s exterior remains covered by huge white tarps so that people unfamiliar with the area won’t mistake it for a working hospital.

“We can’t let people think we’re providing care,” said Dave Lamb, the hospital spokesman.

A fully-stocked hospital that doesn’t function might seem, well, creepy if it weren’t for the place’s bright colors, tested and approved to lift people’s spirits. The original art now on the walls — all from Ohio artists — is also meant for that purpose.

And while the facility is 2 1/2 weeks shy of opening day, it’s still packed with people. One employee who happened to be near the lofty, sunny front entrance saw a curious couple walk through the front doors.

“Hi there,” the employee said. “In case you’re wondering, we’re not open yet. But there’s a community open house this Saturday, from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.”

The couple thanked the employee and continued to gawk. The employee entrusted Lamb, who was in the lobby at the time, with keeping an eye on them. She went back to work arranging large signs pointing to particular departments.

“There could be 5,000, 6,000 people here Saturday,” Lamb said. “We can’t logically offer small group tours to this many people. So we’ll give them maps and set up signs.”

Lamb said he and his colleagues have probably shown the hospital to 10,000 people so far, mostly members of community groups that requested tours. But this weekend will be the only time the general citizenry can come and mill around, Lamb said.

To look at the big picture, the place seems complete. But zoom in and it’s apparent a lot of work is left. Some walls that had a first coat of paint need another one because holes had been drilled, spackled and sanded. Piles of drywall and insulation are stored in one hallway.

Even in a half-finished state, “it’s been extremely well received,” Lamb said.

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