AUGUSTA — A 310-foot crane swung two large steel beams slowly toward the workers who added them to the skeleton of the emergency department.

Inside the adjacent, yellow-sheathed walls of what will be the X-ray department, ridged metal deck plates waited for a layer of reinforcement steel where concrete will soon be poured for a 30,000-square-foot floor.

A floor above, 7-inch-thick concrete cured under blasts of propane-powered ceiling-mounted heaters shaped like jet engines. Below, small Bobcats lifted and smoothed dirt as workers placed PVC piping into the ground.

So far, a little more than one-sixth of MaineGeneral Medical Center’s new regional hospital is framed out, with the pace of the work clearly visible from Old Belgrade Road and from Interstate 95 near Exit 113 in north Augusta.

The project is starting to look like a building. Construction is under way on the second of a six-part plan to have all the steel erected.

“We are currently tracking ahead of schedule,” John Milbrand, construction manager for MaineGeneral Health, said this past week.

The 640,000-square-foot hospital is scheduled to open in the spring of 2014. The $310 million, 192-bed hospital is next door to the Harold Alfond Center and Cancer Care, which was opened by the same parent organization in July 2007.

This past week, scores of workers, all in fluorescent vests, hard hats and steel-toed boots, were busily laboring in various parts of the building and surrounding area.

The building’s foundation is 80 percent complete, officials say, and retaining walls are now going up. Giant blankets, some with black hoses of warm water snaking under them, help keep the ground from freezing, so pipes can be installed and concrete poured.

Five lunch wagons offering hot food for sale — and bearing signs encouraging advance orders and advertising specials — line up parallel to one another near the heated, wooden building where the estimated 200 workers on site this winter can eat and get warm.

Building progress

The first concrete floors went down late last month, with plastic sheeting and portable heaters keeping them warm enough to dry.

The exterior walls won’t always be yellow; they’ll turn a deep blue, and later be shrouded in brick or other facing similar to the Alfond center. For a look at the middle stage, check out a small facade just in front of the complex of 14 office trailers, which is being used as construction management headquarters.

The wall has windows and a door, but it’s braced by timbers at the rear and looks like a flat Hollywood set.

“It’s a perfect mockup,” said John Scott, vice president of the Winthrop-based H.P. Cummings Construction Company. “We’re testing the building materials for the exterior wall to make sure they perform the way we want them to and to make sure the hospital is not going to leak.”

While the doors and windows will be similar to those used at the cancer center, Scott said some features have improved since 2007.

In the building itself, short, stubby yellow tubes extend from a portion of the ceiling. They were put in prior to the concrete pour and will be used by electricians who will come in later to hang permanent lights.

Boulders dug up during the foundation and site work now ring the construction site and block off steep areas. They’ll remain there and be used instead of guard rails in other areas.

“Reuse, recycle and save money,” Milbrand said.

Back inside, wires run from outside walls to inside steel columns.

“The building is designed to work as a unit with the columns, beams, floor members and floor concrete. It all ties the building together,” Milbrand said. “Until you get everything in place, you have to put temporary stuff in.”

Steel work should be complete by summer, they say. Next will come work on permanent stairs, plumbing and roof installation.

Economic impact

Hospital officials offered estimates on the economic impact of the project, noting that $152 million in work has been subcontracted. Of that, $149 million has gone to local companies and joint ventures, they say.

They estimated that 92 percent of workers are from Maine and 96 percent of the workers are from New England.

A banner hanging in the construction headquarters building lists the names of two dozen companies working on the project and shows they come from across the state, including Augusta, Bangor, Fairfield, Lewiston, Richmond, Scarborough, South Portland, Stillwater, Waterville, Westbrook, and Winthrop.

At a ground-breaking ceremony in September, Scott told attendees that about $40,000 per hour will be spent on construction work for almost three years.

The entire hospital project, including financing, is estimated at $412 million and includes $10 million in improvements for MaineGeneral Medical Center’s Thayer campus in Waterville. Hospital officials plan to close the hospital on South Chestnut in Augusta and to convert Thayer into an out-patient facility with a 24-hour emergency department.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

badams@centralmaine.co[email protected]

VIDEO ONLINE

To view video of the latest construction work at MaineGeneral Medical Center’s new regional hospital, visit kjonline.com.The work on the exterior of the building is also captured by a web camera set up on the roof of the Alfond center and images can be viewed through the hospital’s website, http://www.ournewhospital.org/live/