‘Topping-Out’ ceremony marks halfway point to 2025 launch

  Friday, November 17, 2023
  Health, Community

By Karen Villarreal

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – NOV. 17, 2023 – With the lifting of a symbolic tree atop two final metal beams, members of Vaughn Construction and HKS Architects & Designers, construction team on the UT Health RGV Cancer and Surgery Center, celebrated a milestone Nov. 7 in the project. 

The construction team held a “Topping-Out” ceremony, a tradition of Scandinavian origin dating back to 700 A.D. It marks when the frame of a building reaches its highest point, and celebrates the team working on the project, the onsite crew and others who contributed their time and labor to getting to that point. 

Invited guests, including UTRGV President Guy Bailey, said the occasion marks the halfway point in the building, “and the beginning of cancer discoveries and academic medicine in the region.”

The facility lays the foundation for treatment that previously was inaccessible to much of the Rio Grande Valley community, he told the more than 100 construction workers assembled for the topping out.

“You're building something that will help care for your loved ones in the future,” he told the workers. “When we're treating people for cancer, you helped us do it.”

Special guest Richard DeLeon, executive director of program management with the Office of Capital Projects for the UT System, also recognized the teams.

“To everyone in a safety vest and a hard hat today, we appreciate you,” he said. “This project has a really strong moral purpose – to educate students, launch careers, do research and provide a healing service for residents of the region and beyond.”


Construction began on the three-story, 144,231-square-foot Cancer and Surgery Center with a groundbreaking in October 2022. The center is scheduled for completion in late 2024, with service to patients in early 2025.

Dr. Michael B. Hocker, dean of the UTRGV School of Medicine and senior vice president of UT Health RGV, was invited to speak to the importance of the project. He said oncology advisory services from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have helped develop and launch a cancer center "at the level that the patients of the Rio Grande Valley deserve.”

“We're going to provide high-quality care, close to home, to you and your family members and we're going to do research that changes diseases – especially the cancers that affect the people in the Valley,” he said. 

As the landmark facility of UTRGV's 38-acre Academic Medical Campus, 1400 N. Commerce Center St. in McAllen, it will house the UT Health RGV Cancer Center’s Medical Oncology departments, including Infusion, Radiation Oncology and a Clinical Research Unit. 

Attending the Topping Out event were representatives of Vaughn Construction, HKS Architects & Designers, UT System and UT Health RGV, who were inivited to sign the final two metal cross beams before they were put in place. (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)

Eighty medical professionals are anticipated to make up the cancer care team. The UT Health RGV Surgery Center will have six operating rooms, a procedure room, and 25 perioperative rooms ­– 11 for prepping patients for procedures, and 14 post-anesthesia care units.

Additionally, diagnostic imaging, orthopedics, rehabilitation and physical therapy, and a clinical laboratory will operate out of the UT Health RGV Cancer and Surgery Center.


Attending the Topping Out event were representatives of Vaughn Construction, HKS Architects & Designers, UT System and UT Health RGV, who were inivited to sign the final two metal cross beams before they were put in place.

One beam honored the collaborative effort, and a dedication beam was signed with the names of loved ones who have been affected by cancer.

UTRGV alumnus Omar de la Vega, an independent contractor coordinating with Vaughn on the rebar steel, said he was proud to be working on a project of this magnitude.

“It’s definitely a team effort that reflects the Valley’s growth,” said Vega, who graduated from UTRGV in fall 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. “It’s one of the biggest projects I've done so far.”

De la Vega said he wanted to contribute to this project to honor both his late cousin and his dad’s fight with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. 

“I almost lost my father and we had to take trips to Houston for his treatments,” he said.  “But luckily, he's a cancer survivor.”

Raymundo Maldonado, a Vaughn construction worker, said signing his name – and that of a close aunt he lost to cancer in 2016 – was a sentimental moment. 

“Writing her name feels special, because everybody will see it, and it's going to stay here ­– the memory,” he said. “She was like a mother to me. She brought me into her home.”

He remembered her having to travel back and forth to Houston as her condition worsened, and said it was something nobody wants for a loved one. 

“I wish I could have been doing this a long time ago – helping them build this,” he said.

One of the metal cross beams is raised to its place in the landmark facility of UTRGV's 38-acre Academic Medical Campus, located at 1400 N. Commerce Center St. in McAllen. (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.