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Hammes architect developing hospital in his hometown

SUMMIT, Wis., November 10, 2009 - When the Aurora Medical Center is unveiled March 1, architect Michael Day will hang up his hard hat, having designed and built 39 Aurora Health Care buildings. Of the four hospitals he has helped build, the new town of Summit hospital is not only the largest, but it also hits closest to home for the Oconomowoc resident. “This is kind of like the perfect ending – for this chapter, anyways,” he said.

Day’s retirement comes after 13 years with Hammes Company, which has assigned Day to work exclusively on Aurora buildings, everything from the 820,000-square-foot hospital near his hometown to a 1,200-square-foot clinic in central Wisconsin. “We had it built out within two weeks,” he said of the small clinic. “I bought everything I need from Menards – plumbing, light fixtures – everything.”

With 46 years in the world of architecture, Day will continue to serve on the Oconomowoc Community Development Authority and Architectural Commission, of which he is chairman. He also served about six years on the Delafield Plan Commission.

Having remodeled many houses around the area, Day has left his architectural mark all across Lake Country, including the Irish Pub in Oconomowoc, the Genesee Town Hall and the Kettle Ridge condominiums in Delafield. Day has also used his artistic talent to give back to the community, such as converting Stone Bank MiddleSchool into a residence hall for the Tyme Out youth ministry.

“I have always thought that if you are blessed, which I am, then you have to give back,” he said. Day has spent most of his career building medical buildings, something close to home for the son of a general practitioner. As a child, Day believed he would follow in his father’s footsteps, but he soon discovered his artistic talent while attending a preparatory school in Kentucky, where one of the teachers introduced him to architecture. His love for drawing, combined with his construction experience, gives him a unique insight into the field. “It’s one thing to talk about architecture, but it’s another to think three-dimensionally and actually understand how things are put together,” he said.

Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Day started his career designing school bathrooms and soon became a partner in an architectural firm. He moved to Wisconsin in 1982 to work for American Medical Buildings in Milwaukee. Instead of pursuing his own artistic vision, Day said he has always based the architectural design of medical buildings on their function. “I always stress that the architecture needs to be subservient,” he said. “It should make you feel comfortable, like you are in a homelike environment.”

When visitors walk into the lobby of the Aurora Medical Center, for example, they are greeted with a three-story tall ceiling and gold elevators that stir the excitement of a fancy hotel. Patients that enter the Vince Lombardi Cancer Center, on the other hand, are greeted with a smaller, more intimate lobby area. A fountain pumps water through three vessels, representing the healing of the mind, body and spirit.

Although Day’s work is technical in nature, he is very much in tune with Aurora’s philosophy of putting the patient in the center of the experience. “You have to understand, three-dimensionally, what it takes to make them feel comfortable,” he said.

Having built three hospitals with Day from start to finish, Aurora Vice President of Facility Development Becky Flink said Day fully understood Aurora’s commitment to patient-centered care and treated every hospital as if it were his own house. She recalls Day once took an art course to learn how to draw happy, expressive faces on animal figures in the courtyard of a hospital.

“His fingerprints are on everything, from the lighting of the building to the stained glass in the meditation areas,” she said. “It wasn’t just making sure the electrical is correct, but it’s also that creative side that makes the project that much more fluid.”

At 68, Day hopes to continue learning in retirement. After a life of woodwork, architecture and construction, Day hopes to explore the field of mechanics by spending six to seven weeks in Texas building replica Lamborghinis. Starting with the body of a Pontiac Fiero, he will build the car mostly from scratch and plans to drive it home when he is finished. “As long as Michael has the ability, he’ll just move from one job to another,” Flink said. “He’s not the type of person that’s going to sit through their retirement flipping through channels with a remote control.”

By Jeff Rumage - The Freeman