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Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU celebrates topping out of new children’s tower

Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU Rendering

Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU on Wednesday held a virtual “topping out” ceremony for its new 16-story children’s tower, celebrating the placement of the structure’s final steel beam. The 500,000-square-foot facility stands approximately 260-feet tall – or the height of 13 giraffes. Connected to CHoR’s outpatient Children’s Pavilion, the tower completes an entire city block dedicated to caring for kids.


“We know that our children are both our future and among our most vulnerable Virginians,” said Daniel Carey, M.D., Virginia secretary of health and human resources. “And every child in Virginia deserves a healthy, happy, equitable and safe future. This facility will help do just that, providing the utmost care and increasing access for our families here in the Commonwealth.”


While the COVID-19 pandemic impacted how the hospital celebrated the construction milestone, it hasn’t delayed progress towards the spring 2023 opening. The $400 million tower will expand access to pediatric care and consolidate emergency and inpatient care into one building designed to meet the unique needs of children. The tower will house all private rooms, an emergency room, Level 1 pediatric trauma center and helipad, additional operating rooms, increased imaging capacity, playrooms and family amenities, and convenient parking. A bridge will connect the tower to VCU’s academic medical center.


“It’s been a top priority for me as a president and as a parent to bring a hospital to Richmond that focuses on children, their families and caregivers,” said Michael Rao, president of VCU and VCU Health System. “Today’s topping out marks a major progression in our mission to serve all children of the Commonwealth, and I couldn’t be more grateful. Colleagues and friends such as Coley Wortham and the Children’s Hospital Foundation have been unrelenting in their support. And, we’re also thankful for the support of children’s health care by our leaders in government — including our congressional delegation; the Governor of Virginia and his phenomenal team, including Secretary Carey; our legislative leaders; and our very own mayor of Richmond.”


Elias Neujahr, CEO of CHoR, said children, families and community members have been at the center of tower planning from the very beginning — before the ground was broken and the first beam was placed.


“This incredible facility will be our community’s children’s hospital,” Neujahr said. “A place where families will find comfort and hope during some of their hardest, most challenging days. A place where passion and purpose will come together every day to improve the lives of children from our communities — and beyond. For some that will mean care closer to home — and for others it will mean a visit to Richmond for a care team and facility that’s worth the drive or flight.” 


Twelve-year-old Becca Chamberlain has spent countless days in CHoR’s outpatient clinic and inpatient unit undergoing treatment for childhood cancer. Her mom, Anne, has been a part of the tower’s planning process, providing critical patient and family insight to architects and hospital leadership.


It feels like a gift to be able to give a tiny bit back to the organization and people who quite literally saved the life of our daughter,” Anne said of her experience participating in building planning. “The building will be beautiful, but more importantly it will provide a better experience for families. In cancer treatment there are frequent visits to clinic, inpatient care and sometimes even emergency room visits. This new facility will make coordination of that care more seamless for families, which will remove added stress.”

In addition to consolidating pediatric inpatient and emergency units to one facility, the new tower will also house specialized inpatient programs like bone marrow transplant and epilepsy monitoring, which are currently co-located with adult services at VCU Medical Center.


“This new tower is much more than just a building,” said Karen Hendricks-Muñoz, M.D., interim physician-in-chief of CHoR and interim chair of the Department of Pediatrics. “Coupled with our exceptional pediatric services that span the breadth of conditions for which children require care, our growing research enterprise and innovative educational programs to train future generations of pediatric providers — this extraordinary facility enhances our tri-part mission to improve the lives of children.”


As construction crews worked to lay the foundation and erect the tower’s steel structure, teams at CHoR have worked behind the scenes to recruit additional specialists and enhance programs and partnerships that will thrive within the new facility and outside the walls of the hospital. Since CHoR broke ground on the new tower in June 2019, it has been ranked among the nation’s top children’s hospitals by US News & World Report in four specialties, gained Level 1 Children’s Surgery Center verification by the American College of Surgeons, launched a new Children’s Health Research Institute and helped develop a new clinically integrated network, Virginia Children’s Care Network.


Through work with donors in the community, Children’s Hospital Foundation has been integral in bolstering CHoR’s continued growth, and its $100 million Built for Kids capital campaign is underway to help fund the construction of the Wonder Tower. Included in the campaign progress are gifts like those from Estes Express Lines and the Estes Family for $2 million. Gifts made thus far total nearly $50 million.


“We are so appreciative of the support we’ve received for the Wonder Tower,” said Lauren Moore, president and CEO of Children’s Hospital Foundation. “People recognize that childhood must be protected and have responded so generously to this campaign. The support will truly make a world of difference for the level of care that’s available in the Richmond area.”


As she signed the facility’s final steel beam, community pediatrician Tamara Sutherland, M.D., reflected on what CHoR’s growth and the new facility will mean for her patients.


“Having all of the pediatric specialists together in one place – and in a state-of-the-art facility that matches the caliber of care they provide – is monumental for my patients and all of the kids and families in our region,” Dr. Sutherland said. “The fact that they don’t need to travel far from home to get the specialty medical care they need is an important component in safeguarding their physical and emotional health.”


Art Kellermann, M.D., senior vice president for VCU Health Sciences and CEO of VCU Health System, said that when he came to VCU Health last fall, he made a personal commitment to do his part to advance children’s health care in Richmond – and across the region.


“The city block that we are transforming will serve as a powerful and enduring promise to Virginia's diverse communities and all of Virginia’s families that we are in this for the long haul,” Kellermann said. “But what will bring this promise to life is not the physical building – no matter how wonderful it might be. It will be the thousands of CHoR team members, VCU faculty, staff and students, community volunteers and others who serve our state’s children, parents and siblings for decades to come.”

The children’s tower is connected to the outpatient Children’s Pavilion on East Marshall Street, between 10th and 11th streets. HKS Inc. is the architect, with project management by JLL and construction by DPR construction.