More than 30 local residents got a first-hand look Saturday at potential building sites for a new hospital in Craig.
While opinions were mixed on what the best location was at the conclusion of the five-site visit, Keith Mclaughlin, the project manager, said a hospital could be constructed at any of them.
"I think everyone of these sites is viable," he told the group after the last site had been presented. "We need to bring out the pros and cons of each, looking at it through a patient's eyes. That's why the hospital is not going to close a deal right off the bat."
The first property visited Saturday was a 100-acre potential building site for a new Colorado Northwestern Community College campus in Craig, of which the college's board has agreed to donate 15 acres to the hospital if it wishes to build there.
That site visit drew the most people Saturday, with several city and college officials attending to sell the idea to hospital officials and board members.
The city will build a recreation center at the site if voters approve the question on this fall's ballot.
CNCC Vice President Dean Hollenbeck, who is in negotiations with state officials right now to get necessary funding for a new campus, has said a key factor in securing that money would be if the college can show that a recreation center and hospital are being built at the same site.
He did not hesitate in saying that CNCC would benefit if the hospital chose to build there.
"Selfishly, I say that CNCC will be there a lot faster if we get these partnerships put together," he said. "When I was at the capital discussing our plans, what kept coming up was these partnerships."
One of the pros of building at the college site is that it would be free to the hospital.
"This property was purchased by taxpayer dollars and our philosophy is to give that back to the taxpayers," Hollenbeck said.
Concerns raised about the site during discussions included visibility, accessibility and infrastructure costs for the undeveloped land.
Hollenbeck and the city have proposed that the three entities could share in infrastructure costs if they all decided to build at the site but timeliness was an issue.
The hospital would like to begin construction this year, while both the recreation center and college projects are a few years off, and are still not a sure thing.
The recreation center needs voter approval, while the college needs state funding approval.
But Hollenbeck said building all three at the same place would be a huge step for the community.
"This is a project that would get national recognition," Hollenbeck said.
Mayor Dave DeRose said more grant money would be available for all three projects if they all built at the same place.
The second and third sites visited Saturday included the Buescher Trust site and Wilson property north of Highway 40 west of Craig.
The Buescher Trust site is 11 acres and costs $84,900.
The Wilson site, which is about two blocks west of the Buescher Trust site, is a 13-acre plot of land.
The project management team said no details have been worked out yet on the cost of the site, but said a donation may be a possibility.
The fourth property visited was the Kloos property on the south side of Victory Way in Craig off of Fourth Avenue West.
Owner Randy Kloos said the 22-acre lot costs $2.7 million, which was significantly more than the other four lots visited Saturday but he noted that the land was zoned commercial.
Kloos also noted that the $2.7 million price tag was about the same as the cost to purchase three acres of land around the current hospital, which officials had done when they were originally pursuing the idea of building at the current hospital site.
"Ironically, you have the same cost but 80 percent more land here," Kloos said.
He also pointed out that the site was the closest to the center of Craig out of all of the sites visited Saturday.
"It is in close proximity to the nursing homes and people in town," he said. "You also want a spot that visitors to Craig can see."
The final piece of property visited Saturday was the Kawcak property, a $760,000, 24.9-acre piece of land located across the street from the Moffat County Public Safety Center.
Owner Mike Kawcak said the land was ready for construction, with no demolition and little site preparation necessary.
He also noted that most infrastructure needs were in place, including water, sewer, electric, natural gas and telecommunications.
In an information sheet distributed during the meeting, Kawcak said, "This location is virtually at the hub of all the needs for not only a new hospital but has the space for expansion and capacity to handle other potential development."
In a discussion after the tour, resident John Peroulis said he was sold on the Kawcak property.
"The site we're standing on is the best site of all of them," he said. "You could start digging the foundation here tomorrow. Even if you sold the other property for half, you could still buy this piece of property."
But Dr. Gregory Roberts, who has argued in the past for constructing a facility at the current hospital site, maintained his stance Saturday.
"We haven't talked about the economic viability of downtown," he said. "That's something Craig has that many towns don't. I'm worried that without the hospital many downtown businesses might have to close down. That will make Craig a less attractive place."
But project manager Mclaughlin said the reason the other sites were being investigated was because of community feedback.
Although officials are visiting other sites, he said the hospital's decision to purchase property around the current facility was a good decision.
"That was not a mistake," he said. "That was a very proactive move. They did the right thing to get the project moving."
Several factors will influence the hospital's decision, Mclaughlin said.
"We have to look at not only location but we have to look at getting the most for the community's money," he said.
TMH Administrator Randy Phelps said the hospital board would probably take recommendations from the project managers and narrow the field down to two or three sites in an upcoming meeting.
The project manager will probably than do more in-depth studies of those chosen sites, he said.