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The Last Base Isolator

By Jorge Casuso

November 14 – They signed it, praised it, prayed for it and blessed it, then the crowd that had gathered at Saint John’s Health Center last Friday watched with bated breath as the last base isolator was hoisted into place.

The 110 giant shock absorbers -- each weighing 12 tons, or as much as six medium-sized cars -- will protect the hospital’s Howard Keck Diagnostic and Treatment Center from the kind of seismic shocks that battered Saint John’s during the 1994 Northridge Earthquake.

Last base isolator. (photo by Jorge Casuso)

The largest of its kind ever manufactured, the base isolator system will allow the large building -- slated to be completed in 2009 -- to move in all directions, rather than sway, during a major temblor.

“With this base isolator, Saint John’s will be able to function even if there is an earthquake the size of the last one,” said U.S. Congressman Henry A. Waxman, the keynote speaker at the ceremony. “Saint John’s will be an example to all other hospitals.”

“It’s been a long journey marked by challenges and opportunities,” said Sister Marie Madeleine, co-chair of Saint John’s Legacy Project. “We will present the City of Santa Monica with another jewel in its crown.”

While the speakers focused on the future of Saint John’s, which will see its massive rebuilding effort completed when the new front entrance opens its doors in 2011, much of the talk focused on the cylindrical concrete structure that sat by the makeshift stage.

“I don’t recall ever going to the blessing of a base isolator,” said Mayor Bob Holbrook, who during his 16 years in office has attended countless events.

“Who ever talked about a base isolator before?” said Sister Maureen Craig before giving the invocation.

“We’ve been through the earthquake,” she said, “we know what having a strong building means.”

From left: Sister Marie Madeleine, Con. Henry A. Waxman and Lou Lazatin, Saint John's president and CEO. (Glenn Marzano Photography)

After the speeches had ended, Father Patrick Comerford, the health center’s chaplain, approached the heavy structure signed by the hospital staff and sprinkled it with holy water.

“May your blessing rest upon us always,” Comerford said in an Irish brogue, as he also sprinkled the edge of the crowd for good measure.

Then, a small brass band struck up an overture as a giant crane slowly lowered its hook, which was fastened to the isolator by two construction workers clad in festive Hawaiian shirts.

Then, as the fanfare swelled and the cable grew taut, the giant cylinder was hoisted slowly into the hot, clear blue sky. The chaplain gave the structure a final sprinkling, as the crowd gathered at the railing and camera crews and photographers snapped the floating object.

Then, as it swung above the construction site, two flocks of white doves were released, fluttering away as the isolator slowly descended and finally touched down. The brass band played quietly as it was set into place and tightened down with giant bolts.

“Very impressive, isn’t it?” said an elderly man in a brown cowboy hat, as the band broke into a John Phillip Sousa march.

“It’s like changing a tire,” another man said.

From left: Mayor Bob Holbrook, Peter Kelly, Con. Henry A. Waxman and Saint John’s Health Center VP of Foundation and Health Center Relations Bob Klein (Glenn Marzano Photography)

In addition to the base isolators, the new facility will boast self-contained systems to generate electricity, store water and treat sewage in the event municipal systems are strained or knocked out during a disaster.

A total of 385 workers – including 100 electricians and 100 framers and “dry wallers” – will work on the building, said Lee Davis, who is overseeing the project for McCarthy Building Companies.

“The construction part is the easiest,” he said, adding that the company had to secure the necessary permits from the City and find parking for the workers.

Isolator floats above site. (Glenn Marzano Photography)

Waxman had some encouraging words for the hospital staff and officials gathered Friday morning.

“The Northridge Earthquake tested the people of this hospital in ways that were daunting,” the Congressman said. “You are the real foundation, not the building.”


Isolator Slide Show




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