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Fundraising efforts picking up for Peoria children's hospital
This artist’s rendering shows a portion of the Milestone building for Children’s Hospital of Illinois and OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, as the building will look from Interstate 74. The new emergency department entrance is at the bottom right. (For The Pantagraph/BARB LLOYD, CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL OF ILLINOIS)

PEORIA - Downstate Illinois' largest hospital for children is beginning to take shape as fundraising efforts in McLean County for the new hospital building are picking up.

"You can actually see it coming out of the ground now," Ron Jost said last week of Children's Hospital of Illinois in Peoria. Jost is vice president of strategic and facility planning for OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, which includes Children's Hospital.

Erection of steel for the Milestone Project for Children's Hospital and Saint Francis began on April 5 and should be completed in August, when exterior enclosure will begin, he said.

Meanwhile, the McLean County Milestone Committee - chaired by Dave Magers - has organized to raise awareness of Children's Hospital and money for the new building, said Linda Myette, director of major gifts for the Children's Hospital and Saint Francis Foundation.

The Peoria hospital matters to McLean County and the rest of Illinois south of Interstate 80 because it has neonatal and pediatric intensive care units. Children born prematurely or with congenital heart disease, respiratory problems or significant gastrointestinal issues and other life-threatening illnesses are transferred to Children's Hospital from throughout Central Illinois, including from BroMenn Regional Medical Center in Normal and OSF St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington.

BroMenn and St. Joseph have endorsed the Children's Hospital project.

About 2,000 children from McLean County received care at Children's Hospital in 2007, said Mari Osborne, manager of the McLean County Children's Hospital Foundation office. She said 95 percent of McLean County children who need specialized pediatric services come to Children's Hospital.

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The Milestone Project is an eight-story, 440,000-square-foot building being constructed beside the existing Saint Francis and Children's Hospital. The $234 million project - which comes to $280 million when bond financing is included, Myette said - is the largest building project in Peoria history and is the second-largest construction project after the Interstate 74 reconstruction.

Children's Hospital has been challenged because its operations are scattered over six buildings, Executive Director Paul Kramer has said. In addition, the hospital needs more capacity. Last year, the hospital had to defer some children to specialty hospitals in Chicago, Rockford and Iowa City because Children's Hospital didn't have space for them.

Most of the new building will be for Children's Hospital, consolidating hospital services. Included will be a larger neonatal intensive care unit, a larger pediatric intensive care unit, a general pediatric unit, a new pediatric surgery unit, a new pediatric pharmacy, a larger emergency department, and a new St. Jude Midwest Affiliate. All inpatient rooms will be private, with space for family.

The long winter made it difficult to pour concrete, Jost said. "We're about eight weeks behind but hope to get caught up during steel erection," he said.

Jost hopes the building will be enclosed by spring 2009 and completed by summer 2010.

The project will be paid for by public donations, by using money in reserve and borrowing money, Myette said. Fundraising is in the major gift phase and will be opened to the general public later, she said.

She declined to say how much money has been raised but said fundraising is "on schedule."

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