Digging in for Health Services’ $55M expansion

gannett groundbreaking
Robert Barker/University File Photography
President David Skorton, Vice President Susan Murphy, Associate Vice President for Campus Health Dr. Janet Corson-Rikert, Graduate Student Trustee Annie O’Toole, Cornell Board of Trustees Chairman Robert Harrison and Undergraduate Student Trustee Ross Gitlin break ground on the $55 million expansion and renovation of University Health Services facilities May 22.

Groundbreaking ceremonies the evening of May 22 for the $55 million expansion and renovation of University Health Services (UHS) facilities included at least one surprise – and it wasn’t something unearthed by the ceremonial shovels.

In fact, ground already had been broken by earth-moving machines at the actual footprint where the seven-level, 119,000-square–foot addition will open in 2017. So a symbolic, red-trimmed box of easily shoveled sand – installed for the occasion at the Ho Plaza entrance to the 60-year-old clinic – gave dignitaries the chance to flex their muscles.

The soon-to-retire vice president for student and academic services, Susan H. Murphy ’73, Ph.D. ’94, launched the half-hour-long festivities by thanking Board of Trustees Chairman Robert S. Harrison ’76 and his wife, Jane Harrison, for their leadership gift of $5 million. (Nearly $20 million has been raised so far for the project, which was green-lighted by trustees in 2013. Some 600 donors responded to a “Thanks Susan” initiative in the project’s capital campaign.) Murphy also thanked the deans and her administrative colleagues for their financial support of the project.

“This is a building of the campus and for the campus. May it ever be that,” Murphy proclaimed, before introducing Dr. Janet Corson-Rikert, associate vice president for campus health and director of Gannett Health Services.

Of the expansion, Corson-Rikert said much-needed new facilities will “support collaboration among mental health, medical and health-promotion staff to provide state-of-the-art, integrated clinical and public health services to all people ... whose health is influenced by the academic and social environment of this campus and this community.”

Corson-Rikert credited Murphy’s advocacy, on behalf of the campus community, for the expansion project – as did President David J. Skorton when it was his turn to speak: “A floor of this building will be named the Susan H. Murphy Administration and Health Promotion Floor, which is really wonderful.”

Still, that wasn’t the day’s big surprise; Murphy already had that news.

Harrison took the microphone to say: “We need to recognize Dr. David Skorton, our physician-president [who has] been visible and visionary in elevating student health as a core element of the university’s mission.”

Harrison said he was “proud to announce that we will be establishing the Skorton Center for Health Initiatives. Through the Skorton Center, David’s extraordinary leadership and dedication to student and campus health will continue long past his presidency.”

A multidisciplinary team of health professionals, Harrison said, “will create and implement programs to support the community’s physical, mental and sociological health (and) will become a model of integrated medical and mental health services where patients will be treated as whole persons.”

Partnerships will be created by University Health Services staff with faculty from the ILR School, the College of Human Ecology and the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research.

“As a result of these partnerships,” Harrison said, “the center will create a program of research and evaluation to support evidence-based institutional strategies to strengthen Cornell’s national reputation as a leader in student health.”

Skorton confessed: “I am very seldom speechless.” Recovering, Skorton thanked UHS staffers during his nine-year tenure – “This is where I get my travel health and a lot of other help” – then concluded: “I am going to remember this day very fondly after I leave Cornell. I didn’t realize this (naming the new center) was going to happen. We‘re on our way to matching the superb programs that make (UHS) what it is, with the facility it needs. Thank you for this humbling surprise.”

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Joe Schwartz