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Palmetto tree and steel beam mark milestone for new children's hospital

Topping out ceremony features a Lowcountry twist on a Scandinavian tradition

steel beam with palmetto tree
The blue beam, draped in an American flag and holding a Palmetto tree, rises over Charleston as workers prepare to complete the steel structure underlying the Shawn Jenkins Children's Hospital and Pearl Tourville Women's Pavilion. See more images in this photo gallery. Photo by Sarah Pack 
Helen Adams | | October 25, 2017

“Hoist that beam!”

As carpenter Mekiel Mitchell said those words on stage with MUSC Health CEO Patrick Cawley, the final steel beam for the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital and Pearl Tourville Women's Pavilion was raised into position atop the 625,000 square-foot structure.

For Mitchell, who volunteered to speak on behalf of Robins and Morton construction workers at the topping out ceremony, it was a kind of homecoming. “This project is very dear to me, because the hospital that once stood here, I was actually born in,” he told a crowd of co-workers, MUSC employees and local dignitaries. “I have a special affinity for this particular project."

Topping out ceremonies mark the placement of the last beam on top of a building during its construction. There’s often a tree atop the beam, based on an old Scandinavian religious rite. Since this topping out was in Charleston, a palmetto tree rode this beam on its way to the top.

The new hospital is scheduled to open in 2019. Shawn Jenkins, the co-founder and CEO of Benefitfocus who has donated $25 million to help build the hospital, called it surreal to see the project reach this milestone.

“It was just a year ago, October 19, that the first pile was driven, and now we’re putting the top beam on the structure,” Jenkins said before the ceremony, still wearing a hard hat from a lunch he shared with the construction workers. 

Shawn Jenkins speaks to construction workers

Shawn Jenkins speaks to construction workers before the topping out ceremony for what will become the new children's hospital. Photo by Anne Thompson
“I come out and visit the job site a lot – every week or every other week. It’s just inspiring to be around the 600-something people building the building. You feel the energy, the excitement, to see the completion coming soon for such a mind-blowing project to help our women and children.”

Later, Cawley, who also serves as vice president of Health Affairs for the Medical University of South Carolina, described some of the hospital’s highlights while standing on a temporary stage in what will become the hospital’s lobby. 

“It will include an expanded neonatal intensive care unit, enhanced labor and delivery services, an entire floor dedicated to the care of the children with cancer, a world-class atrium, a world-class outdoor healing space and the most comprehensive pediatric heart center in South Carolina,” Cawley told the crowd.

The project has already won some awards, including the project of the year for the Southeast region from the National Association for Minority Contractors.

Kylon Jerome Middleton, pastor of Mount Zion A.M.E. Church in Charleston, led the audience in a prayer, saying, “This is a place where anything, everything, can become possible.”

New things have already become possible for Mitchell, the carpenter who spoke at the ceremony. “This is my first time in construction. You all have inspired me greatly. You guys have inspired me so much that I began school at Trident Tech for construction. I’m very grateful and proud to be part of this project.”

Cawley said none of this would have been possible without the generosity of donors such as the Jenkins, Tourville and Zucker families, all of whom have donated millions toward the project.

Behind the scenes: Making the new children's hospital a reality (MUSC News, July 18, 2017)

Patients and families get firsthand look at hospital they're helping build (MUSC News, June 12, 2017)

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