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BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Builders of the $60 million VA Primary Care Annex and parking deck held an official groundbreaking ceremony this morning with officials proclaiming it will help the Birmingham medical center provide better healthcare to veterans.
The ceremony was hosted by BL Harbert International, the Birmingham contractor building the project, along with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The massive project will have the address of 2415 Seventh Ave. South, but the development is taking up the entire city block between Seventh Avenue South and University Boulevard and between 24th and 25th Streets.
The new, 2,300-space parking deck will provide much closer access to the Birmingham VA Medical Center at 700 19th Street South. Currently, patients park at the city parking deck at the corner of Fourth Avenue North and 22nd Street and are bussed several blocks to the hospital.
The project is slated for completion in fall of 2015.
Thomas Smith, director of the Birmingham VA Medical Center, said the 58,000-square-foot Primary Care Annex will house several outpatient procedures, women’s health, mental health and a number of lab and technical functions. He said the relocation of those operations from the existing medical center is expected to open up the entire first floor to allow for an expansion of the emergency room, a new dialysis center and other improvements elsewhere in the hospital.
VA and elected officials acknowledged the current scandals that created long waits and inadequate care at several VA hospitals across the country and even similar allegations here in Alabama. However, they said the Birmingham hospital is known for providing quality, timely care and the new facilities will help it keep pace with the increasing demand as more veterans turn to the VA for treatment.
“Everything we do is about improving the care and services we provide to you,” Smith told the many veterans attending the groundbreaking.
Smith said the site search for the parking deck and annex started a decade ago as officials realized the number of Alabama veterans deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan would increase the demand for services.
Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-AL, said honoring veterans should be something all of us feel called to do.
“We can never repay our veterans for their noble and brave service to our country,” she said. “The least we can do is provide them with the best quality medical care.”
Sewell recognized the family of 98-year-old James Carrington, a World War II veteran who served with the Montford Point Marines, the first group of African-Americans to serve in the U.S. Marine Corp. She said after the groundbreaking, she planned to visit Carrington at the VA Medical Center and present him with the Congressional Gold Medal.
“It’s most important not that we speak for them, but that we do for them,” she said of veterans.
Charles Sepich, director of the VA Southeast Network, said he views Birmingham as one of the medical centers that is focused on doing right by the patients.
“I want to thank Birmingham for being such a strong meca in providing quality medical care to our veterans,” he said.
Birmingham City Councilwoman Sheila Tyson, herself a veteran, said she could get treatment from any other hospital she chooses but she prefers the Birmingham VA Medical Center because the people there “genuinely care about veterans.”
Birmingham Mayor William Bell agreed, saying his father, a veteran, receives medical care there and is pleased with the level of care given.
Birmingham’s Graham & Co. is developing the project along with the Las Vegas-based Molasky Group of Companies. Austin, Texas-based Page Southerland Page is the architect.
“BL Harbert is pleased to construct this facility for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Our veterans have so bravely served our country in many capacities around the world to ensure our freedom,” Gary Savage, BL Harbert’s president of U.S. operations said in a statement. “Helping to meet their healthcare needs through construction of a state-of-the-art healthcare facility is an honor we embrace.”
Steve Graham, chairman of Graham & Co., said it was important for the firm to be a part of the significant project.
“We are honored a privileged to be a part of the team that is committed to doing what we can to help out our veterans,” he said.
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