Volunteers mark progress on new Ronald McDonald House

The gathering Wednesday at the new and still under construction Ronald McDonald House at 3501 Lansing Ave. was a celebration of sorts. But volunteers with the charity aren’t ready to party just yet.

“We’re basically stopping until we have the money,” said Keith Schawo, the board president of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Mid-Missouri.

The first half of construction wrapped up this week, but the organization still needs another $900,000 to finish up the $2.6 million project. Right now, the building is just a shell, and the interior still needs to be finished.

“It would be a shame to have this thing sit here for six months,” said Mary Ebert, the co-chair of the organization’s fundraising campaign.

Since the organization had to temporarily close its house at 1001 E. Stadium Blvd. in the summer of 2010 after heavy rains caused severe flood damage to its basement, it has been raising money for a new facility. In September 2011, it hit the halfway point, raising $1.3 million, enough to start construction on the first phase.

The existing house, built in 1983, likely will be demolished when the new house is complete and the university-owned land returned to the university.

One of the best parts of the new location, Schawo said, is it is right next to Women’s and Children’s Hospital. Formerly, many children were treated at University Hospital, next to the Ronald McDonald House’s existing location. But a $12 million renovation project converted the old Columbia Regional Hospital into the existing Women’s and Children’s Hospital, which opened in September 2010.

For families of terminally ill children, every minute they save by being closer to the hospital is important, Schawo said.

“Proximity is a big thing when you’re serving families of children,” he said. “That’s one of the big reasons we’re here.”

The new house will have double the rooms of the old one — 18 in all. “We do need more space because there were 20 families we weren’t able to serve” this year, Schawo said.

And just to the east, there is extra space on the land it is leasing from the university for 18 more rooms, if the need should arise.

“We want to be able to offer that service as Women’s and Children’s grows and as the community needs it,” Schawo said.