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Clara Barton celebrates expansion with beam-signing
signing beam
Clara Barton Hospital staff members used a combination of black and silver markers to decorate their signatures on a green-painted I-beam Friday at the "beam-signing" picnic commemorating the expansion of the Hoisington hospital.

HOISINGTON — According to construction lore, especially during the late 19th Century when buildings began to scrape the sky, the old tradition of “topping out” when the last beam was placed was a builders’ rite.

In the ceremony, a tree branch was affixed to the final girder to be placed at the top of the building’s structural skeleton, including the scrawled names of the builders, so that the tree spirits displaced by the building would be appeased and that no harm would befall the workers or the structure.

The modern equivalent was seen last Friday morning at the site of Clara Barton Hospital’s $15 million building expansion project. Construction workers, hospital employees, city officials and even curious passers-by were invited to sign a length of I-beam to be placed in the building’s superstructure.

Following a group photo of hospital staff, the green-painted I-beam, covered in decorative signatures in silver and black marker, was lifted into a place of honor at the northeast corner of the building. As the bolts were tightened, the rest of the McCownGordon Construction crew joined Clara Barton employees as hosts of a grilled-hamburger picnic near the hospital’s helipad. Cheers and applause rose up from the picnickers as the scissor-lifts were finally lowered with the beam bolted into place.

Hospital officials broke ground on the project last May, to be accomplished in three phases. The first phase was a revamp of the parking lot.

The construction of the surgery center is the second phase. The building’s superstructure provides a highly-visible benchmark in the expansion project, notes Jim Blackwell, Clara Barton Hospital President/CEO.

“We are thrilled about many of the things that we are doing now,” Blackwell said. The last major building project was the physical therapy expansion in 2013. The surgical clinic required new square footage due to the age of the plant and the growth of the practice, including recruiting more physicians.

The latest expansion also improves Clara Barton’s imaging system, Blackwell said.

“The area that our x-ray machine is in, and our CAT scan machine, are within the footprint of a building that was designed in 1950. In that area, the ceiling height is really low, so whenever we upgrade equipment we are constantly battling that,” Blackwell said. “We wanted to upgrade and had the opportunity to do it, the x-ray, mobile sonography and our CAT scan, and we wanted to bring our MRI in-house. So that’s why we chose to add the surgical clinic to the imaging center, so we could do all those capital upgrades. 

“Probably the thing that is most remarkable about this project is bringing our MRI services in-house,” Blackwell noted. “The reason that we’ve had to use a mobile truck for the last 20 years is we had no space to put a magnet like that inside. It requires certain types of shielding and square footage. The truck has worked well, but it doesn’t have an area that would make patients comfortable. The actual bore size is much bigger than what we are currently using, and I think it’s going to bring a lot of patients satisfaction.

“The thing that is going to be terrific for our patients, is that they will have access to better spaces, better care, better clinical diagnostic equipment. That is the thing that we are really excited about,” Blackwell said.

The project is still holding to its planned timeline, Blackwell said.

“Our surgical operating room expansion will be done in March,” he said. “The east side of our campus is slated to be done in July. Our Great Bend clinic is slated to be done in March as well.”

Blackwell said it was great to see a project finally coming about after years of planning.

After the beam was placed and the picnic area was cleared away, it was time for a few more pictures, then back to work as usual for Clara Barton staff, providing quality health-care for area residents.