NEWBURYPORT — Leaders of industry, politics, banking and medicine converged yesterday morning outside Anna Jaques Hospital only a few yards away from where work is expected to begin later this month on a $15.2 million renovation project.
The occasion, held inside a large white tent with a classical guitar player in back, was to mark the official groundbreaking of the project.
The massive renovation project will include a new inpatient unit consisting of 18 private rooms; a new, more efficient power plant; and a new outpatient entrance where the current power plant is located.
Anna Jaques Hospital president and chief executive officer Delia O'Connor, one of many who spoke during the hour-long ceremony, spoke of the generosity of the many donors who helped fund the project and also of the importance of providing private rooms for patients.
"This is a big, big deal," O'Connor said.
O'Connor's statement regarding the importance of offering private rooms was echoed several times by different speakers.
Chief nursing officer Richard Mackie said the new rooms will give patients a greater sense of dignity, privacy and their own bathrooms. It will also improve their care, as nurses will be able to input patient data at their bedsides or on computers just outside their rooms.
Building Committee Chairman and well-known local developer Wayne Capolupo said another important feature of the renovation project, the first major capital improvement in 40 years, is the hospital's new power plant. To make room for the power plant, the hospital's physical therapy building will be demolished starting later this month. In preparation for the building's demise, construction fencing has already been placed around the structure.
At the front entrance of the hospital, a handful of protesters representing the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 103 gathered. Watching over the group was a Newburyport police officer, hired by the hospital.
"We have had protesters outside the hospital for approximately six weeks now, and we did not want it to become a disruption to a happy celebratory event for our capital campaign project," Anna Jaques Hospital spokeswoman Deb Chiaravalloti said in an email.
Members of IBEW Local 103, sometimes accompanied by a large inflatable rat, have been protesting the hospital's decision not to automatically hire union workers for the expansion project. As part of their protests, IBEW Local 103 members have been highlighting malpractice payments made by Anna Jaques Hospital-affiliated doctors throughout their medical careers.
O'Connor mentioned the protesters during her short speech, jokingly saying they served as a catalyst for the project proceeding so quickly. The comment drew a hearty laugh from the roughly 100 people in attendance. Asked afterward about the IBEW's presence, O'Connor had little to say.
"It's a free country; they're making their point," O'Connor said.
Among those spotted in the crowd were Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday, Amesbury Mayor Thatcher Kezer, former Newburyport Mayor Byron Matthews, Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins, The Provident Bank President Charlie Cullen, who served as emcee for the event, and new Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank President Janice Morse.
After the last speaker finished, attention was directed to a small bench inside a fenced off area near the physical therapy building. On the bench rested a large slab of what looked liked siding. Picking up a sledge hammer, glasses and a hard hat, several attendees walked behind the bench and posed for an official groundbreaking photo. Capolupo then proceeded to swing his hammer as hard as he could, knocking his hard hat off his head and smashing the siding in half. It drew a huge round of applause from the assembled crowd.