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Altru, construction partners celebrate milestone in Grand Forks hospital project with ‘Topping Off Ceremony’

The Topping Off Ceremony is “a special and momentous event,” Kristi Hall-Jiran, chief philanthropy officer, Altru Health Foundation, told the crowd.

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Dr. Josh Deere, president of Altru Health System, signs the ceremonial beam at the hospital's Topping Off Ceremony on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022, in Grand Forks.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS – On a brilliantly sunny Wednesday afternoon, a crowd gathered to witness the placement of one of the last beams to be installed in the construction of a new Altru Hospital just north of the current facility on South Columbia Road.

At the Topping Off Ceremony – a tradition in the construction industry – the 13-foot, 300-pound beam was lifted by a crane into place in the framework of the structure’s seventh floor. The steel beam — which is ceremonial, not structural — bears the signatures of about 400 Altru Health System employees and 200 or so construction workers. It will be visible in an employee hallway.

In remarks during the ceremony, Todd Forkel, CEO of Altru Health System, thanked all who have worked on this project. He also expressed gratitude to “the women and men of Altru who get up every day and give of their time and talents in a way that is awe-inspiring. They are the heartbeat of our mission.”

Forkel also thanked the many donors who, collectively, have helped to “move this project forward and help move our mission forward.”

Half of Altru’s patients are from outside Grand Forks, he said. “This is a Grand Forks project, but it is also a regional project.”

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Alef Cerrato, left, and Oscar Medina, Sr., react after raising a flag and placing a tree atop the new Altru hospital Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

The Topping Off Ceremony is “a special and momentous event,” Kristi Hall-Jiran, chief philanthropy officer, Altru Health Foundation, told the crowd. The new hospital represents “Altru’s commitment to our community and region” and will provide area residents with close proximity to services.

“And close to home is where you want to be,” whether for treatment of a life-altering health condition or routine issues, Hall-Jiran said.

Dr. Josh Deere, newly-named president of Altru Health System, said, “In medicine, moments matter,” noting that design features of the new hospital, especially related to emergency room care, will improve efficiency and quality of care.

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Project team members react as the top beam is raised at Wednesday's topping off ceremony at the new Altru hospital.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

The new hospital represents “the future of world-class health care in this area,” said Josh Kehrwald, principal architect with JLG Architects, pointing out that a hospital is a place “where the highest of highs and the lowest of lows happen – often right next to each other.”

This building is designed with a focus on “dignity, respect and humility” for the patient and will address the needs of patients and families, Kehrwald said. In his work on the hospital, which will have 226 licensed, patient beds, he said, “the passion of Altru’s employees has been inspiring.”

The Topping Off Ceremony is “a celebration of all the hard work and efforts that individuals, tradesmen and the (Altru) owners have done to get us from conception to this point,” said Jon Stoeckman, lead project superintendent with PCL, the general contractor.

After formal remarks, several health system, city, architectural and project leaders added their signatures to the white beam just before it was hoisted into place.

Construction on the $470 million project, which has been in the works for several years, was suspended for about 18 months as Altru Health System grappled with the extraordinary challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Re-started in September 2021, construction is on schedule, with completion expected in the fall of 2024, said Stoeckman.

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Conveying a congratulatory message for U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., Emily Berg said the new hospital will have more beds, additional space and advanced technology to meet the health care needs of people in this area.

Tom Bruseggard, speaking for Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said the new hospital “will usher in a new era in regional health care” and congratulated all those involved “for their patience, resilience and hard work that has brought this project to reality.”

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Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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