(R-L) Casey; Firestone; Page; Garimella; Prelock; Keith Robinson; Sarah Lindenfeld; Gordon Jensen, M.D., Ph.D.; Rick Morin, M.D.; H. David Reines, M.D.'72; Matt Cooke; Malone. (Photo: David Seaver)
It was a typical late fall day in Vermont – a mix of gray skies and sun with a cool wind blowing – but the tone was bright and celebratory at the October 27 grand opening and dedication of the newest addition to the Larner College of Medicine’s campus: the Firestone Medical Research Building. In attendance at the dedication ceremony were donors, leaders from across the College of Medicine, University of Vermont and UVM Health Network, medical alumni, faculty, staff, students and research trainees, and community and business leaders. Also present were representatives of architects Payette Associates and Black River Design and the main contractor for the building, Vermont-based PC Construction.
The event marked the conclusion of a two-year-and-twenty-nine-day journey, which started during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many construction projects across the state had halted.
Despite the stay-at-home order in place in September 2020, biomedical research on the SARS-CoV2 virus at the University of Vermont’s medical school was operating in high gear.
“Those early days of the pandemic taught us many lessons, some of them heartbreaking in nature, and they deeply underscored the value of biomedical research,” said Larner College of Medicine Dean Richard L. Page, M.D., during his welcome remarks at the event. “So even in the depths of the crisis, when we might have been forgiven, and forgiven ourselves, for delaying the plans for the Firestone Building until less tumultuous times, we decided to forge ahead,” Page added.
The seeds of inspiration for the building were planted by its lead donor, Larner alum and retired anesthesiologist Steve Firestone, M.D.’69, who several years ago began exploring where to focus a gift in memory of his mother and his father, Dr. Frederick Firestone. The senior Dr. Firestone had received medical training in Vienna, Austria in the 1930s, made his way to the United States, completed his medical internship, and joined the U.S. Army during the Second World War, where he served in Europe as a battalion surgeon and earned two Silver Star Medals. After the war, he opened a modest medical practice, where his wife, Bobbie, worked alongside him as a nurse, and they served their community for many years.
The new building represents the university’s and college’s commitment to research excellence, student success, patient care, and community service. UVM President Suresh Garimella underscored how advanced research technology housed in the new Firestone Building provides an example of this commitment.
“The work that happens on this campus every day—in every college and school—directly impacts the quality of life for people near and far,” said Garimella. “The Center for Shared Biomedical Resources is a key example of our institution bringing into being a resource for the entire region, beyond just those directly connected to UVM. Researchers at other institutions and in state government will be able to take advantage of the technology at the center.”
Providing an environment for both deliberate investigation and serendipitous innovation were intentional components of the building’s design, and an aspect highly valued by Mary Cushman, M.D., M.Sc., and Mark Nelson, Ph.D., who are co-directors of the Vermont Center on Cardiovascular and Brain Health (VCCBH), which will be located on Firestone’s fourth floor.
“This building will focus on collaboratively advancing research that supports healthy life and builds and sustain vibrant economies and communities,” said Cushman, who referenced the adjacent location of state-of-the-art laboratories and a “collaboratory” for idea sharing in the VCCBH’s space.
Marilyn Cipolla, Ph.D., professor of neurological sciences, chair of electrical and biomedical engineering, and a UVM B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degree alum, said during her remarks, "I can't think of a better way to amplify our impact here at UVM than training the next generation.”
Symbolically, graduate students Kiera Malone and Dylan Casey, who will be training and working in the Firestone Building, held each end of the ribbon that was cut at the close of the October 27 event to formally open the facility. Malone, a Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Sciences doctoral student, works on cancer-related research with Karen Glass, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology. A type 1 diabetic, Malone understands the importance of biomedical research from the perspective of both a patient and a scientist.
“I really hope that we can make change for everybody, and those, especially, who need it the most,” she said during an interview with local television news station NBC5.