TMH officials invite neighbors to discuss expansion options

School board counters the hospital's offer for administration building, several other sites reviewed

Plans to expand The Memorial Hospital won't stop because the Moffat County School District countered an offer for the School Administration Building. Instead, hospital officials will review their options while continuing negotiations with the Board of Education.

One of those options includes adding on to the existing building, a move that could affect neighboring homeowners.

TMH officials invited Russell and Taylor street to presentation by Hospital Administrator Randy Phelps on Thursday evening. The presentation was an opportunity to review and discuss what the future may hold for the hospital and its surrounding residents.

Phelps said the hospital needs significant improvements. A sprinkler system needs to be installed to fulfill fire-safety requirements, the bathrooms need to be retrofitted for handicap access, and the space for necessary equipment is not available, he said.

Future needs in the operating room, pathology, radiology, and business and records departments for both new doctors and caregivers make the picture even more complex.

"The remodeling bill would be approximately $8 million, but there are several problems with that option. The 'work around' issue is a serious one. By this, I mean trying to service our patients while construction is going on, in and around the hospital," Phelps said. "We learned the difficulty this presents when we were putting in the nuclear camera."

The fact that the boilers cannot be replaced is another major roadblock to remodeling, as is the fact that remodeling won't provide for a surgery center that would allow outpatients to remain separate from inpatients.

"When looking at remodeling, there are serious roadblocks. So, for just a few million more we could build a new, complete hospital for our community," Phelps said. "The last number I heard as a price was $13.5 million.

"A major question though, if it is decided to build a new hospital, is where do we put it?"

According to Phelps, the hospital needs to be close to doctor's offices so the doctors will be constantly available to patients, near the Visiting Nurse Association to preserve "the congruity to patient care," and a central location to bring economic traffic through the area.

The hospital has purchased several surrounding properties, Phelps said, and is looking to buy more.

"A guiding principle for this project is to have as little impact on the neighborhood as possible, but saying that, if someone would want to relocate, we are looking to buy," Phelps said.

Another benefit of building a new hospital is that The Memorial Hospital would remain open while the facility was being constructed.

The process is in its preliminary stages, with many options still open for consideration, Phelps said. The acquisition of the School Administration Building, which would house the hospital's administrative offices is being considered. Should that not work out, hospital officials hope to acquire a portion of the Administration Building's parking lot.

Also, several funding questions still have to be answered. One possibility would allow for the new hospital to be built without tax funding, however, the first option for funding remains a mill levy increase.

"There are a lot of balls in the air that haven't landed yet," Phelps said.

The approval of the closure of Russell Street between 7th and 8th streets is "a deal breaker," but hasn't been addressed yet, he said.

A new hospital, in certain configurations, could have a basement, which would negate the need to buy the School Administration Building. The issue of where the Flight for Life helicopter would land is still unanswered, but is unrelated to what the final layout and location of the new hospital turns out to be, Phelps said.

Concerns about parking were raised, and Phelps acknowledged there would be congestion no matter what option was taken, but the plan is to build a new facility, demolish the existing hospital and replace it with a large parking lot.

Residents were concerned about the hospital's ability to condemn houses.

"As a public entity, it is an option," Phelps said, "but the Hospital Board has said not to do that. We are acquiring the lots by purchasing them. Our plan is to keep acquiring land as the lots become available over time, as the owners look relocate."

One resident asked whether the hospital would consider moving houses.

"The board could also consider moving the houses that they purchase instead of demolishing them. The idea is a possibility, but now the plans are to demolish the houses that we have acquired," Phelps said.

On July 1, a finalized drawing with a "Guaranteed Not to Exceed" price will be ready, and that final footprint will answer several questions and lay the groundwork for the next set of steps, Phelps said.

"For tonight, all we would like to ask is for you to sign a permission slip that would allow surveyors to bang around and lay out some possibilities," Phelps said.

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