Cancer Center Reaches Milestone

June 13, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — The final design is set and the money is falling into place for a new cancer-treatment center Saint Mary’s Mercy Medical Center wants to develop, with more than $30 million already pledged to the $42 million project.

The hospital has secured donations of more than $20 million, passing a milestone needed to receive a $10 million matching grant from the family of the late Richard J. Lacks Sr., whose name the cancer-treatment center will bear.

With construction targeted for the first quarter of 2002, Saint Mary’s is now focused on raising an additional $7 million to fully fund development of the $37 million center through philanthropy, plus another $5 million to create an endowment fund.

Appeals are now out to the hospital’s employees and medical staff. Saint Mary’s also has “several very large requests” for donations under consideration by potential donors, Vice President of Development Micki Benz said.

Benz is optimistic the hospital will meet its $42 million fund-raising goal, hopefully by the time construction on the Richard J. Lacks Sr. Cancer Center begins.

“We’re pretty excited and gratified,” Benz said. “The quicker we get to our goal, the better we’ll feel.”

The fund-raising effort for the Lacks Cancer Center is by far the largest campaign Saint Mary’s has ever undertaken, easily surpassing the $4 million drive completed in 1998 for the Wege Center. The Lacks Cancer Center has drawn broad support in the community, generating nearly 2,100 separate donations, about 40 percent of which came from first-time contributors to Saint Mary’s.

Donations from corporations, foundations, service clubs and individuals ranged “from $5 to $5 million and everything in between,” Benz said.

Surpassing the milestone needed to receive the Lacks family’s gift comes as the final design for the cancer center is set.

Saint Mary’s last month received approval for the center’s exterior design from the Grand Rapids Historic District Commission. The approval was needed because the cancer center’s location, where the hospital’s McAuley Building now stands, is within the boundaries of the Heritage Hill historic district.

The design, featuring a red brick exterior facade on the upper two floors and a tower at Cherry Street and Lafayette Avenue, blends function and aesthetics, said architect Robert Miller, director of construction administration at MAS Associates Inc. of Farmington Hills. The look of the exterior adheres to the surrounding architecture of the Heritage Hill neighborhood, while the interior design is intended to accommodate the modern technology and medical practices used to treat cancer patients.

“We weren’t trying so much to be historically accurate as we were historically sensitive,” Miller said. “Everyone involved in the project has a lot of respect for the nature of the community and the context.”

The roof of the center will feature a glass-enclosed promenade with a healing garden and walkway, plus an open-air patio. Those and other architectural features are designed to accommodate the “hope and healing for all” mission of the Lacks Cancer Center, which will consolidate into one location many of the medical services cancer patients require, as well as offer services designed to support a cancer patient’s emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being.

“We’re trying to create a healing environment within the whole building,” Miller said.

The center will also use some of the unique architectural features of the McAuley building, which is slated for demolition this fall.

Doubled-arched window frames from the stone base of the McAuley Building’s cupola will go in the rooftop garden, and the cornerstone from the building will be removed and reinstalled at the new facility. The cross that now stands atop the McAuley cupola will come down and go atop the tower of the Lacks Cancer Center.

“We’re saving intricate pieces from special locations in the hospital,” Miller said.

The re-use of certain architectural elements was sought by the Grand Rapids Historic Commission, which sought to have as many items as possible on the McAuley Building salvaged.

“What we can salvage, we are trying to salvage, just to bring some of that old into the new,” Saint Mary’s spokeswoman Jennifer Cammenga said.

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