The City of Hamilton and McMaster University broke ground on a new, downtown health campus Monday morning.

The $84.6 million project has been several years in the making and is set to open in 2014. Serving as both a health care clinic and a campus for health sciences, the facility is expected to host 54,000 annual patients, 4,000 McMaster students and 450 staff members. It will be home to the McMaster campus, a Public Health office, family health clinic and maternity centre.

"We are going to have nursing students, midwife students, medical students and resident students all training together," John Kelton, dean and vice-president of McMaster’s faculty of health sciences, said.

"This is a grand experiment and we want our residents and our students to be part of this experiment."

Right now, the Main and Bay street site is nothing more than a pit of mud — a pit the university, city and province are filling with a lot of cash and high expectations.

'Right across the street is well over $100 million in new hotels and condominiums that were created by the developer on the promise of this clinic coming.'—Mayor Bob Bratina

Mayor Bob Bratina hailed the new campus as a catalyst for downtown growth. He said the campus has already captured the interest of developers.

"Right across the street is well over $100 million in new hotels and condominiums that were created by the developer on the promise of this clinic coming," Bratina said.

"We now see tangible evidence that projects like this have a spin-off effect in attracting new investments. At every level, this is a wonderful, successful project for the city."

Senator David Braley, who personally invested $10 million in the project, hoped it would propel McMaster to the top five ranked medical schools in the world — right now it sits around 14, depending on who you ask. The Guardian newspaper in the UK ranked McMaster as the 42nd best medical school in the world. 

The 195,000-square-foot centre will streamline health services by combining different levels of care in a single building, from public health to general practitioners and specialists.

Braley suggested this philosophy could set the standard for urban health centres across the country.

"The federal government is watching this program like a hawk," he said.

McMaster hopes it will not only bridge the gap between campus and the Hamilton community, but also create new, unique learning experience for its students. The students themselves will have plenty to offer the clinic as well, according to health science dean Kelton.

"Oftentimes students have got the most interesting ideas. They’re fresh, they’ve just arrived," Kelton said. "We see having students as a way to accelerate how quickly we’re able to impact on our care."

But high hopes aside, those living in downtown Hamilton might simply be relieved to have improved access to the care they need. Lindsay Burk is a mother who lives just two blocks from the campus site. She said she’s been turned away from too-busy walk-in clinics in the past and the new clinic would be a welcome relief.

"It’s really close and convenient instead of having to go to hospitals and wait hours," Burk said.