Topping-Off Ceremony at St. John’s University Marks New Phase in Construction of St. Vincent Health Sciences Center

Three union workers putting beam in place with American flag hanging from it
April 26, 2023

Media Contact: Brian Browne, Associate Vice President, University Communications & Public Affairs
St. John’s University
T 718-990-2762 | C 917-561-7068 [email protected]

Kevin Corsino, Senior Manager – Marketing & Communications
Shawmut Design and Construction
T 617-622-7312 | C 857-225-5274 [email protected]

Queens, NY (April 26, 2023) In a time-honored tradition held at St. John’s University’s Queens, NY, campus, the final piece of steel in the construction of the innovative St. Vincent Health Sciences Center was hoisted three stories above a cheering crowd during a Topping-Off ceremony. Gathered to witness the milestone event on April 25 were an eclectic mix of clergy, Trustees, dignitaries, University administrators, faculty, members of the design and construction teams from Shawmut Design and Construction and CannonDesign, and organized labor partners—all united in the mission of advancing health-care education.

Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P., President, addressed the crowd by saying, “St. John’s is making a major investment in the health sciences and the people—like nurses and health-care providers who deliver extraordinary service to others—thus living our Vincentian mission.”

Scheduled to open in the Summer of 2024, the new 70,000-square-foot new home for existing and future health sciences programs ushers in a new educational era at St. John’s. It will be a state-of-the-art facility designed to train future generations of health-care providers and caregivers not just for today’s conditions, but for tomorrow’s unimagined needs.

“Reaching the topping off milestone on the St. Vincent Health Sciences Center is an exciting accomplishment and we’re incredibly grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with St. John's University, CannonDesign, and our many trade partners to bring this vision to life,” said Dave Margolius, executive vice president of Shawmut’s New York Metro region. “At Shawmut, we believe that our passion for building must be grounded in a deeper purpose. As we reflect on the foundation of this project, we are proud to play our part in creating a space that embodies the university’s values of compassion and service while advancing their mission to educate the next generation of caretakers, who will undoubtedly make extraordinary impacts in our communities.”

The construction project, being completed by Shawmut Design and Construction and CannonDesign, is estimated to cost $106 million and is a major generator of economic activity in Queens County and beyond.

During the construction process, the last steel beam placed is a major milestone in the evolution of a building project. This milestone is commemorated by painting the beam white and having the steel construction team, designers, property owners, and dignitaries sign it for posterity.

Reminiscent of old-fashioned barn-raising celebrations, in the United States the beam in a topping-off ceremony is typically adorned with a small evergreen tree and an American flag. This custom celebrates the construction process and is viewed as the first introduction of the building to the public.

Against the backdrop of a clear blue sky, a crane slowly lifted the special beam and gingerly placed it into its permanent location as a rousing cheer erupted from the crowd. The radiant beam joins 1,137 columns and beams and 875 tons of steel being utilized in the foundation of the innovative learning space.

The new academic building will include active learning classrooms, laboratories, simulation facilities, office space and collaborative spaces. It will promote interprofessional education among existing academic programs to enable students to learn together and work as a team, like the real-world situation found in any clinical setting.

The building is centered on an interior, multistory, social common space. This “living room” will act as the heart of the academic program and promote formal and informal interactions between students and faculty.

The leading-edge simulation facilities will allow students to learn in a safe, realistic, clinical environment before they begin clinical rotation assignments at off-campus sites. Flexible room layouts will accommodate a multitude of teaching and learning styles. Structural and mechanical systems will allow for reprogramming of the spaces within the building. 

Design plans for the center will make it very energy efficient. The building will make a positive contribution to the St. John’s Climate Action Plan and will also utilize biophilic design (i.e., direct and indirect connections to nature) material choices, and social spaces to provide a healthy and engaging place to study and work. 

The building will be heated and cooled using a geothermal field, which will include up to 66 wells drilled 499 feet below ground. Geothermal energy is a renewable energy source that comes from reservoirs of hot water beneath the Earth’s surface. With innovative applications in several economics sectors—electricity, industry, and buildings—increased use of geothermal energy serves to decrease the use of fossil fuels and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions.

State-of-the-art technology will control lighting, space occupancy, and temperature throughout the building. An array of solar panels on the roof will further help reduce the energy consumption of the building, helping to make it one of the greenest on campus. High-performance, energy-efficient windows will reduce thermal loss. The elongated east-west floor plan of the building will maximize daylight and skylights will help reduce lighting usage by 22 percent during daylight hours. The building is designed to obtain a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification.

The St. Vincent Health Sciences Center will feature state-of-the-art classrooms, cutting-edge laboratories, patient simulation facilities, and transformative virtual reality technology that is redefining what is possible in the health-care industry. It will include collaborative spaces, outdoor terraces and breathtaking vistas. It will be an amazing home for generations of caregivers, health-care professionals, and individuals who are committed to improving the lives of others.