Heavy machinery and large mounds of dirt let you know that work is well underway on the redevelopment on UNC Health Care’s Eastowne property on 15-501 near the line separating Chapel Hill and Durham.

But officials from the town and health care system gathered under Carolina blue skies on Tuesday to celebrate the work that has taken place to get to this point and look to the future.

UNC Health Care Eastowne rendering via UNC Health Care.

UNC Health Care CEO and dean of the School of Medicine Wesley Burks said this project will help the health care system advance its mission.

“We want to provide the highest-quality health care, as close to home as possible, at an affordable price, with a really good patient experience,” Burks said. “And this building, today, is a big part of our process of trying to do that over the next years in the state of North Carolina.”

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said UNC Health Care had been working closely with the town in the planning for the Eastowne property, calling that area the gateway to Chapel Hill and emphasizing the importance of connecting the development with transit options.

“A lot of dialogue, a lot of discussions on how to make this campus be a truly forward-thinking campus,” the mayor said, “to be a good fit into the community but be accessible to all.”

Hemminger noted there are several challenges with developing the site, including stormwater issues that will have to be addressed throughout the development.

UNC Health Care has been a large presence in Orange County historically, including the Hillsborough campus hospital that opened in recent years. Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich said the county is focused on economic development and having a project like the Eastowne campus move forward is good for all of the county.

“I am excited about this being the first project,” she said, “but let’s not make it the last. Let’s make this whole property really grow and be what we need it to be.”

Another asset the Eastowne property will provide is available parking and easier navigation the main hospitals complex, according to Regina Jones. She interacted with the health care system throughout the treatment of her cancer diagnosis eight years ago.

“Parking can be a challenge at times,” she said of the traditional hospital campus. “Finding your way to an appropriate destination is very difficult. The Eastowne campus will provide on-site parking – which is supposed to be right behind me – adjacent to the medical office building. This will be a huge time-saver and a relief for patients and families visiting Eastowne.”

Jones added that patients are often visiting multiple doctors on one visit, and that the consolidated specialists planned for the Eastowne property will help smooth out that process and relieve stress.

“These appointments can be difficult to navigate in a large hospital,” Jones said. “But with the 15-plus specialties that they’re going to have here at Eastowne, among other services, patients can easily receive the care they need in one location.”

Burks said that hearing stories likes those from Jones keep physicians and those involved in running the health care system focused.

“I think sometimes all of us that work in health care – in the business of health care – lose sight of why we do it,” he said. “And your story, like what we talked about earlier with the mission that we have to promote the health and well-being of the people of North Carolina, you bring us back to that story.”

Construction on the 150,000-square-foot medical office building and parking deck is the first phase of the project. A master planning effort is underway for the development of the remainder of the 48-acre property.