AUGUSTA — Visitors at the Alfond Center for Health’s open house in a few weeks will see a conference room with a gleaming teaching kitchen, sunlight-filled patient rooms and family lounges, and a terraced garden with a rain-fed pool and waterfall.

All of that is nice to look at, but it’s not what interested Winslow resident Bill Armstrong as he followed the news about the construction of MaineGeneral Medical Center’s new hospital.

“He said, ‘Boy, would I love to see the boilers in that new hospital,’” said Pam Morrison, Armstrong’s daughter.

Armstrong, 97, received a private tour of the hospital Friday from Chief Operating Officer Paul Stein and Director of Plant Operations Rick Albert. They looked at not just the boiler room but also the laundry room, electrical closets and the other hidden spaces that make the building run.

Armstrong was responsible for those sorts of spaces and systems as maintenance supervisor at Thayer Hospital in Waterville for about 10 years before retiring in 1978.

He grinned wordlessly through most of the tour Friday, marveling at the scale and modernity of the place as Albert pointed out things that would be familiar to Armstrong and explained things that weren’t, such as the tablet computers on which the maintenance staff will receive work orders, rather than having to pick up written messages from a central office.

“It’s just hard for me to comprehend this whole thing,” Armstrong said. “It’s a different world entirely.”
Arrangements for the tour got started last month when Armstrong was at Thayer, now part of MaineGeneral Health, after coming down with pneumonia.

“He was talking with the nurse, Kirsten, and saying that he’d like to go to the public open house, but they wouldn’t let him go into the spaces he’s really interested in,” Morrison said.

Kirsten Mack, a Thayer night shift nurse, sent some emails that eventually led to Friday’s tour. A so-called “super-user” who’s already familiar with the new hospital and will train other staff members, Mack pushed Armstrong in a wheelchair during the tour.

The hospital on Old Belgrade Road will open Nov. 9. Some parts are ready to go, but others aren’t. The first loads of laundry were delivered Friday — to be washed in machines that can handle 100 pounds in eight minutes — but the elevators were paneled with plywood to protect them from the equipment they’ve been moving.

“We’re going for the L.L. Bean rustic look,” Stein joked as the group entered one of the elevators.

Armstrong said Thayer was the best place he ever worked because of the staff’s positive attitude and that it has been a wonderful hospital. But the building also had its problems, especially because renovations and additions began shortly after the main section was built in 1951.

“Nobody made any changes to the blueprints,” Armstrong. “You spent half your time looking for valves here, there and everywhere.”

Stein said the leaders of MaineGeneral Health hope not to make any major changes to the new $312 million hospital for a long time, and Albert said the patient rooms have been designed so valves will be in the same place in each one.

Armstrong, who Morrison said was kayaking up until last year, seemed energized at the end of the tour.

“I’d love to come back and work, but I can’t,” he said. “I can’t hear!”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
[email protected]