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Construction ‘angels’ recognized at City of Hope Irvine cancer campus

Opportunity is found inside every test, and the designing and building City of Hope’s comprehensive cancer campus in Irvine during COVID-19 represents a once-in-a-generation chance to address two of the nation’s most urgent health needs at once.

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Construction is well underway, undaunted by pandemic challenges. The campus’s cancer center is slated to open in August 2022. We expect to break ground on our specialty cancer hospital — Orange County’s only — this fall.
A world-class construction project requires a world-class team. To serve as our design and construction partners, we’ve selected the internationally acclaimed firms Hensel Phelps Construction, Jacobs Engineering, and architects ZGF, Gensler, and HOK. And throughout the pandemic, we’ve continued to collaborate virtually and regularly with our patients, employees, physicians, and local community members on the design. Their insights are helping make sure the campus creates the best possible environment for patients and staff so they can focus on treatment and healing.
Together, we’ve stayed firmly on track to realize a shared vision to bring our renowned cancer-fighting expertise closer to our Orange County patients.
With the ribbon-cutting only 17 months away, the construction workers are putting their hearts and souls into their work in order to finish and open on schedule. We recognized them in a special on-site ceremony held outdoors on the brisk afternoon of March 9.
There’s nothing like lunch to put a spring in a construction worker’s step, and after we made sure the 200 hard-hatted men and women in attendance were well fed, City of Hope Orange County president Annette M. Walker offered a heartfelt message of appreciation.
“Please know that you are constructing more than a building,” Walker said. “Pour your spirit into it. Bring it to life. And when done, look back and know your fingerprints are all over it. You will have helped turn steel, glass, and drywall into a place of hope and healing. Thank you for bringing your hearts and hands to this project.”
Longtime City of Hope construction advisor Fred Wallitsch with The Freeman Group, Inc., echoed the sentiment. “You are the construction angels, building this facility as a place of healing,” he said. “You probably have never thought of yourselves as fighters of cancer. But without you, your blood, your sweat, and your tears, this does not happen.”
The project has personal significance for Wallitsch, who sees his work as an opportunity to give back. Wallitsch came to City of Hope’s Duarte campus more than 20 years ago to beat leukemia, and he received two successful stem cell transplants at City of Hope — one using his own stem cells and one using cells donated by his sister — to treat a different cancer diagnosed seven years later. “Because of City of Hope, I’ve gotten to experience graduations, weddings, and grandchildren, and see my family grow up,” he said.
Wallitsch added that since almost 40 percent of U.S. adults will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, someone the workers know and love may be treated in the very facility they are building. “You are building this facility for all of them and possibly even yourself. Thank you for taking on this challenge to make these buildings of hope.”
The ceremony resonated with the crowd. When work began, City of Hope Orange County employees were invited to place messages in and around the grounds, expressing their hopes and dreams for the project. One construction tradesman added his own, posting a hand-printed note dedicating their work to his mother who died of lung cancer in 2010 and to future patients who will be treated there. The note said in part, “May all those who enter this building find strength, courage and hope. May this building be filled with love, compassion, and healing.”
With teams as inspired as these, we can’t wait to cut the ribbon in 2022 and thank them from the bottom of our heart for a job well done.