Expert says TMH needs to build new hospital

Architect leads building committee tour, believes construction is hospital's only viable option

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By JOSH NICHOLS
Daily Press writer
An architect with Johnson, Johnson & Crabtree Architecture lead a tour of The Memorial Hospital Tuesday night, and identified issues that would need to be addressed if a decision was made to remodel the hospital.
"I'm going to tell it like it is," Architect Ed Johnson said. "I'm going to show it to you, and let you come to your own conclusions."
After the tour, Johnson gave a short presentation along with Mick Rhodes from American Health Facilities Development, which specializes in coordinating hospital construction projects. The two firms have consulted the hospital thus far on plans to remodel or build.
Their message: The hospital is better off building new than remodeling.
At one of the first stops on the tour of TMH, Johnson shined a flashlight through an opening where a piece of the drop ceiling had been removed in one of the original sections of the building.
He pointed out that when the building was constructed, it was framed with wood, which is now considered a fire hazard.
"Wood is a no no in a hospital," he said.
In other parts of the building, he pointed out spots where fire walls were not intact and also identified several items that did not comply with the American Disabilities Act passed in the early 1990s.
All pipes in the boiler room would have to be replaced, he said, which would result in the heating system having to be shut down to install the new pipes.
"The state has never been through this building," he said. "When you start to remodel all of these issues come out. When a contractor begins to work new things will continue to come up."
All in all, he identified problems throughout.
"Basically not much in here meets code, particularly around surgery," he said. "In the fifties that was the way people did things, but not today."
Johnson spoke on the original estimate given to the hospital for remodeling in 1998.
"You were going to spend $8 million dollars and not have much to show for it. Now inflation will have hiked that price up even more," he said. "In my opinion you really can't get there remodeling because I don't think the state would buy it. The codes in these situations have gotten to where it's not economically possible."
Mick Rhodes agreed with Johnson's assessment.
"By the time you got done with it you would be rebuilding the entire facility," he said. "It would cost you more than it would to have just replaced it in the first place."
TMH administrator Randy Phelps explained why structural problems have not been addressed previously.
"As long as you don't tamper with the conditions you become grandfathered," he said. "As time goes on codes change. What was OK ten years ago is not OK today."
After the presentation by the two consultants, committee members discussed what their next steps would be.
If they decided to build a new facility, they have a price tag ranging from $17 million to $24 million to consider.
The difference in cost is the difference in building a 44 thousand square foot building or a 67 thousand square foot building.
The decision on how big to go hinges on funding availability and an ability to acquire the necessary property to build the maximum size facility.
"The next step is to pursue the idea of HUD financing for the project," Phelps said. "Other considerations will be based on the critical access roll up and how much building we can get.
HUD financing is Housing Urban Development, a federal funding program.
The hospital has already decided to become a Critical Access Hospital, which makes it eligible for cost based reimbursements for Medicare patients.
In regard to HUD, Phelps said, "It sounds like they're really interested in helping rural hospitals."

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