Essentia Vision Northland Project 35 Percent Complete, On Track for 2023 Opening

The $900 Million Project Remains On Budget as Crews Work to Enclose the New Inpatient, Outpatient Facilities

DULUTH, Minn. – A multi-million dollar development is changing the skyline of Duluth’s downtown district.

Ground broke on Essentia’s Vision Northland Project in 2019, and if you’ve recently driven by, you’ve noticed a large amount of progress has been made on the exterior of the new structure.

What started as a vision in 2017 is now becoming an impressive reality.

The extensive engineering, planning, and partnership between dozens of contractors and staff at Essentia Health are running right on schedule for completion in 2023.

“Right now we are ahead of the game, our team and trade partners are on top of it,” said Phil Johnson, project manager with McGough Construction.

A bird’s eye view provides the perfect opportunity to see progress along Superior Street in downtown Duluth.

“We started bids in 2019 and we were very fortunate to get a lot of our large, major materials ordered and procured before the steel price was going up,” said Johnson.

Johnson says he and his team are fortunate to have secured precious materials for Vision Northland ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are certain materials that are becoming more difficult to get. Anything with precious metals, copper, and things like that are getting harder to find,” said Johnson.

Items such as valves, drywall, taping, and mudding materials could prove difficult to obtain in the future, but for now, it’s the exterior work that’s rapidly being constructed.

“The glass is sent over to Ontario where it’s put together in a unitized curtain wall and then it’s shipped back to Minneapolis and then it comes up here and is installed,” said Johnson.

If there’s one thing that makes this new state-of-the-art facility stand out, it’s the 36 different patterns of glass currently being set in place.

“It’s supposed to look like a wave, fog, or sea smoke as the design team wanted it to look like, but it’s for bird safety so the big reason for the frit is to prevent strikes being a very important concern in this area,” said Johnson.

Local and regional sources for materials is a big bonus for McGough Construction and Essentia Health.

The glass, coming from a company out of Owatonna, Minnesota. The building also boasts an amazing 12,000 tons of steel.

“The same companies that did the Vikings stadium are here on Vision Northland,” said Johnson.

If you’re wondering how it compares in size, you might be surprised. Johnson says Vision Northland is almost the same size as the Vikings stadium in Minneapolis.

Now one year into a global pandemic and the crew is happy to report there have been no COVID infections linked back to the job site.

“If you’re on-site and working close by someone, you have to be wearing a mask,” said Johnson.

300 workers occupy the site daily. When the structure becomes more enclosed, Johnson says to expect around 600 every day.

“Most of the crew that is here, and by that I mean over 50 percent are from the Duluth local building trades,” said Johnson.

Aside from the Duluth, Superior area, 10-15 percent of the crew comes from the Iron Range with the rest commuting from the Twin Cities metro area.

“After practicing here for over 29 years, to see the next generation of healthcare in Duluth is just so gratifying to see of the patients,” said Dr. Robert Erickson, one of the physician leads on the project. “St. Mary’s has done everything that it can through the years, but we need building, we need flexibility, we need to be able to advance our technology.”

Erickson knows firsthand what the future of medicine needs to better serve the thousands of patients for decades to come.

“We’ll have integrated X-ray with surgery, so the surgeon can go from X-ray to surgery,” said Erickson. “Also on the surgery floor, a catheter-based physician can go from CT scan to performing catheter-based procedures.”

Erickson says it’s all about speed, precision, and patients’ needs inside the Vision Northland complex.

“The patient will have their own room. We can bring services to the patient,” said Erickson.

“Down in the Emergency Room, we’ll have CT scans within the ER to take the patient right next door rather than down the hallway when the patients are really fragile and after they’ve had trauma,” said Erickson.

He’s anxiously waiting for the day when hundreds of new medical professionals can walk through the doors to begin their practice with Essentia Health.

“Part of our vision was to help with development around the area, but also to retain and recruit healthcare professionals in the future,” said Erickson.

For this Gastroenterologist by day, the project comes with a new perspective on what it takes to provide for patients in need.

“Right now pretty much the design is done, and now we’re getting into transition – how we can be more efficient in our new building,” said Erickson.

Essentia facilities director Dan Cebelinski works closely with McGough, and the crew of doctors and nurses who will be using the nearly 20 operating rooms, and other facilities throughout the 900 million dollar structure.

“We’re also working with our user groups to mock up different spaces, so it’s really exciting to see the equipment in spaces and having our users walk through,” said Cebelinski. “We’re going to reduce the overall footprint of our campus – so consolidating our campus and having all of our services available in one general area will help with access to care.”

Currently, they are operating within the $900 million budget secured by private investors and state tax credits. $600 million is used for construction, with $300 million set aside for the latest technology in medicine.

“Our existing facility is outdated, very space constraint,” said Cebelinski.

As sparks continue to fly, and hammers swing left and right, the amount of pride put into this structure remains clear.

“I grew up here in Duluth, I’m from Duluth, and so being a part of this project is exciting for me and a blessing for me and my family,” said Johnson.

“We’re very proud that we can integrate the community into the construction of this building that will be here for decades to come,” said Erickson.

The new building will have 120,000 square feet of space set aside for expansion.

The outpatient building, which is closest to Superior Street, will be enclosed by the end of this spring.

The inpatient tower is set to be enclosed by mid-2022. The hospital is slated to open for patient care by the third quarter of 2023.

Click here for more information on the project from Essentia Health.

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