A crowd watched on Friday as a crane hoisted a steel beam four stories into the sky at the construction site for the Virginia Tech Carilion Biomedical Research Addition in Roanoke.

No ordinary piece of steel, this special beam had been signed over the past two weeks by more than 100 eager students, faculty, staff, and health care providers associated with Virginia Tech and Carilion Clinic.

This was the chosen beam, destined to play a role in a time-honored construction rite — a topping out ceremony.

“It was an honor to add my name on the beam alongside the signatures of so many positive, enthusiastic people,” said Virginia Tech President Tim Sands. “Having all our names together really represents how we got here — by working together with a collaborative spirit in the best interest of our region.”

Michael J. Friedlander, the vice president for health sciences and technology at Virginia Tech, signaled the crane operator to lift the beam into position. 

Moments earlier, he had asked Sands, Carilion Clinic Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Patrice M. Weiss, and Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea to witness the event from the Virginia Tech Carilion outdoor patio at 2 Riverside Circle.

“People have placed their faith in us to create better medical treatments and interventions, to make important discoveries, and to educate the researchers of tomorrow,” said Friedlander, who is also the executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. “The ‘topping out’ milestone shows that we are moving Virginia Tech Carilion further into its role as a 21st-century academic health center.”

Weiss said, “Besides improving health, the Virginia Tech Carilion partnership has been a catalyst for economic growth and development. It is so gratifying to watch the future unfold right outside my window, a future where innovative, new ideas are born — a future that we can all share. We’re going to increasingly take discoveries from the lab bench, use them to inform patient treatment at the bedside, then take what we learn in the clinic back to the bench to inform research.”

Sands said the occasion is a step toward fulfilling Virginia Tech’s vision of transdisciplinary research that brings together faculty and students from the university’s nine colleges and campuses in Blacksburg, Roanoke, and the National Capital Region.

Meanwhile, Lea proclaimed it was a “great day in Roanoke, the only seven-time All-America City in the country.”

“People who live in an All-America City work side-by-side in collaborative partnerships that help us grow and strengthen our community and our economy,” Lea said. “A good example of this is our partnership with Virginia Tech and Carilion Clinic. What an exciting day, to be part of this special topping-out ceremony.”

Skanska, one of the world’s leading project development groups, is the contractor for the project, and AECOM, an architectural and engineering firm, provides design, construction, and management services. 

“This milestone marks another step in our successful relationship with Virginia Tech and Carilion Clinic in Roanoke,” said Greg Peele, executive vice president and general manager of Skanska’s building operations in Virginia/North Carolina. “We’re playing a supportive role in the growth of the development of a vibrant biomedical research sector that is attracting an ever-growing, highly trained technical work force in the region.”

The 139,000-square-foot building-in-progress is expected to open in spring 2020. It will add to the interdisciplinary research efforts of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and Carilion Clinic, serve as a model facility for experiential learning for students from all colleges of the university, and augment the university’s Destination Areas, which are pockets of disciplinary and interdisciplinary strength that set Virginia Tech above other universities.

“The building of the Virginia Tech Carilion Biomedical Research Addition represents a technical challenge, and when complete will feature a wide array of research and computing facilities with next-generation technology,” said Mark Balling, senior vice president/account manager with Skanska’s building operations in Virginia/North Carolina. “Like its neighbor, the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute, which Skanska previously built, it gives us a chance to live up to our motto of ‘Building for a Better Society.’”

The VTC Biomedical Research Addition is being constructed under Green Building Certification guidelines for energy efficiency and high environmental and human health standards.

Earlier this week, Carilion Clinic President and Chief Executive Officer Nancy Howell Agee wrote her name on the beam.

“Signing the beam gives you chills because you think about the legacy we are creating,” Agee said. “It doesn’t matter if people ever see the names again — for a moment we are recognizing that we are all part of something extraordinary.”