FARGO -- A “dream” seven years in the making moved one big step closer to reality Tuesday, July 11, with a groundbreaking ceremony to start construction on a new Ronald McDonald House.

Jill Christopher, executive director of Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Red River Valley, said the ceremony represented an “impressive day” for the group after raising $4.1 million toward its $5 million goal for the project.

The new facility, located on an acre of land in south Fargo donated by Sanford Health at 4757 Agassiz Crossing S., will have room for up to 24 guest rooms. The group plans to open 17 immediately when the building opens in May 2018 and hold seven more for future expansion.

The charity currently has two buildings in Fargo, one at 1234 N. Broadway and the other at 1330 18th Ave. S., that have a combined capacity of 12 families per night. Those two facilities served 326 families last year.

But there’s a need to help more families of children who are getting medical care in Fargo’s hospitals, Christopher said, and the new building will allow the charity to consolidate to one location and make a bigger difference.

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Representative of the McDonald’s of the Red River Valley Co-op Cindy O’Keefe said owner-operators of the restaurants here believe in this project and were happy to help make it a reality.

“As owners, we have always supported the mission of the house to keep families close to their loved ones,” she said.

Sanford Health, which will open its new Sanford Medical Center near the site later this month, donated $1 million toward the project. Executive Vice President Paul Richard said the facility is something the community has long needed, and it made sense to get involved as Sanford Health prepared to move into its new building in south Fargo.

But proximity with the types of services that tend to draw families that might benefit from staying at Ronald McDonald House wasn’t the only reason the health care provider got involved. Richard said the demand is high for this close, comfortable lodging, and for reducing the stress on parents and families. Allowing them to focus on their child can help the healing process.

“It certainly helps us achieve our mission,” he said.

Christopher said more than 250 donors have contributed to the cause so far. The new facility will have several features that seem minor, such as private bathrooms in each guest room and an elevator in the building, but those are amenities that the charity's two houses in town now lack.

“It will really be an opportunity for us to make a more comfortable place for the families that need us most when a child is sick,” she said.