BURLINGTON, Vt. – Local leaders held a ceremonial groundbreaking for the Firestone Medical Research Building at the University of Vermont on Thursday, expressing hope that the facility will give next generations’ medical students a state-of-the-art education.

Although it was a groundbreaking ceremony, construction on the facility began in October 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the campus community was unable to gather and mark the occasion.

The Firestone Building will add 62,000 square feet to the Larner College of Medicine, but Dean Dr. Richard Page said there’s other benefits too.

“This investment in our future will allow us to retain and recruit the best scientists and trainees to compete for major research grants and make major discoveries,” Dr. Page said.

Dr. Mary Cushman, Co-Director of the Vermont Center for Cardiovascular and Brain Health, said the facility will help keep UVM and the Center on the cutting edge of research. Even though construction is far from over, she said she can see the end result taking shape.

“Our new research center is going to be located in the building, Dr. Cushman said. “It was such a thrill to see the interior and to actually when I walked in this morning, see windows up on part of the building. It made it seem real.”

UVM President Dr. Suresh Garimella said it was a tough decision whether or not to greenlight the project last year during the height of the pandemic, but believes the quick development of the COVID-19 vaccine shows the importance of research facilities like Firestone.

“Vaccines were developed in such a short time, and those kinds of things happen in buildings like this here,” Dr. Garimella said. “I’m gratified with the project, gratified for the support we received for it.”

The building’s $45 million price tag was lessened by a donation from UVM alum Dr. Steve Firestone, who said it was money well spent.

“Who can predict how many life-altering discoveries will ensue,” Dr. Firestone said. “Just one innovative treatment that makes a lifesaving contribution to medical science will more than justify donor philanthropy.”

UVM is planning to have construction completed by Fall 2022, with research beginning inside the facility by Winter 2023.