FORT HOOD — The massive hospital construction project that will reshape the Fort Hood medical community for the next several decades hit a milestone Tuesday.
Hood officials and hundreds of construction workers celebrated the addition of the highest sitting beam on what will be the new Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center.
The six-story, stimulus-funded, $500 million project will replace the aged current Army hospital, which was constructed in 1965. Completion of the new hospital remains on schedule for late 2014, with doors opening in 2015.
“It’s going to allow us to be more localized and very patient focused,” said Col. Roger Gallup, commander of the medical center.
The new hospital will include an ER roughly twice the size of the current hospital’s and a more extensive neonatal intensive care unit.
It also will have a larger focus on behavioral health.
The post has seen a rise in behavior health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, in recent years. Gallup said the new hospital will allow for a larger amount of inpatient and outpatient care.
The hospital will have 947,000 square feet of space, 150 beds and is roughly 60 percent larger than the current hospital.
To build such a facility, crews have poured enough concrete to run a sidewalk from El Paso to Houston and placed enough reinforcing bars to build 122 M-1 Abrams tanks, said Col. Charles Klinge, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Fort Worth district.
Construction involved 800 workers, “dozens and dozens” of contractors, and will at the end have employed 1,500 during its construction, Klinge said.
Workers well fed on catered barbecue cheered Tuesday afternoon as the final beam was raised to officially top out the hospital.
The tradition of “topping-out” large construction sites originated in Scandinavia in order to appease the tree gods for lumber used in construction, Klinge said.
In the U.S., the tradition continues as a way to ensure good luck for the crews as they complete a project.