MICHIGAN CITY — The new Franciscan Health hospital is closer to opening, after construction workers installed the last structural beam on the facility Friday.

The $232 million hospital, expected to be finished in September 2018, will replace the downtown Homer Street campus that is roughly a century old.

"Today marks one of the most significant steps on our road to completion of the new Franciscan Health Michigan City hospital," said Dean Mazzoni, the hospital's president and CEO. "A little more than year ago, we stood here before an empty green field and celebrated the groundbreaking of this new facility."

Now, he noted, the metal skeleton of the hospital contains 3,000 tons of steel. To put that in perspective, he said, an Amtrak passenger train weighs about 65 tons while the Statue of Liberty weighs 225 tons.

The new hospital, located on an 86-acre site that leaves room for expansion, will have an estimated 108 inpatient rooms. Mazzoni said the downtown facility will remain open to house inpatient behavioral health and rehabilitation. 

"Our new hospital will be a tremendous blessing, a great gift, to not only Michigan City and LaPorte County but to this entire region," said the Rev. William O'Toole, director of pastoral care at the hospital. "The mission: to make God's love alive here in the community, through compassionate care of the sick."

The project continues a building boom for Franciscan Alliance, which is putting up a $46 million cancer center at its hospital in Munster, where it constructed a $70 million emergency department in 2015. Franciscan is also in talks to merge with Methodist Hospitals and has reportedly proposed to build a new $300 million hospital in Gary.

Dr. Matthew Troy, president of the Michigan City hospital's medical staff, said Franciscan Alliance involved doctors and nurses at every turn to make sure the new facility was best designed for patient care. "This is truly a momentous day for our medical community," he said.

Sister Jane Marie Klein, chairwoman of the Franciscan Alliance Foundation Board of Trustees, was the last person to sign the beam. She wrote, in a quote inspired by St. Francis of Assisi: "Peace and all good to all who enter."

Then, before a crowd of about 150 observers in hard hats and safety vests, a crane hoisted the beam into place as steelworkers took pictures with their cellphones. A drone with a camera attached followed it into the air.

After the crewmembers bolted the beam in, they raised their arms in celebration. The crowd cheered.

"We intend to make this new hospital a regional beacon for all those who come our way in need of hope and healing," Mazzoni said.

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Health reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.