University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler

Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

Milestone: University of Minnesota's medical complex

  • Article by: LORI STURDEVANT
  • Star Tribune
  • October 3, 2011 - 6:25 PM

Old and new were in fine juxtaposition Monday at the heart of the University of Minnesota's medical complex.

A midday ceremony marked the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the first University Hospital building, Elliot Memorial Hospital, and the restoration and rehanging of that facility's original dedicatory plaques.

Meanwhile, immediately below that event on the newly redesigned Mayo Plaza, tours were offered of the newly relocated Minnesota NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) Center. Though not yet finished, it has opened after its move from Nils Hasselmo Hall, where its delicate instruments were at risk of disruption by the new Central Corridor light-rail line.

The NMR Center found a home in underground space previously occupied by a condemned 1950s-era parking garage. It's six times farther from the light-rail line than its old site, said director David Thomas.

It's also an improved facility. Three new supermagnets have been added to five that will be reinstalled, making it "the most up-to-date, complete NMR center at any university in the country," Thomas said.

It is expected to help meet the research needs of 22 academic departments this year, with wider use expected in years ahead.

Monday's two events, above and below ground, shared a theme: It takes the combined muscle of taxpayer support and philanthropy to make strides in medical research and education.

Elliot Hospital was the product of both. It was named for Dr. Adolphus Elliot, a pioneer-era Minneapolis physician, after his widow Mary donated $115,000 -- or about $3 million in today's dollars -- to erect the first building on what would become the medical campus south of Washington Avenue.

The university's medical school had been in existence for several decades at that point, and its faculty and students had provided free clinical services at a clinic that was established with business backing in the 1870s. But in 1911, the idea that a university should have its own hospital was cutting-edge stuff.

Getting it built required an additional $40,000 in support from the Legislature, plus $42,000 raised from 38 Minnesota business and civic leaders. Among them were names still recognized today -- Pillsbury, Gale, Bell, Bennett, Dunwoody, McKnight, Bovey.

The NMR Center's 2011 relocation and upgrade was a good deal more expensive -- $25 million. State taxpayers footed half of the cost, courtesy of the bonding bill. That's fitting, since the relocation was necessitated by a government-owned transit project. University funds, including donations, covered the rest.

"We rely on public support for our base," university President Eric Kaler said at the Elliot Hospital centenary party. "But philanthropy closes the gap between very good and excellent. ... What you see here is a tribute to the power of philanthropy."

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Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist.

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