Council not phased by TMH 'bully' tactics

Decision to close Russel Street to construct new hospital will be left to voters

To build a new hospital in the same location the hospital currently sits, Russell Street will have to be closed and the chances of that happening could be slim.

Craig City Council members said Tuesday night they felt they were being "bullied" into closing the street by the hospital board's failure to get even preliminary approval for the closure before going forward with cost evaluations and architectural plans.

Mayor Dave DeRose said he was told by the project's architect "if you vote to not close Russell Street, you're voting to close the hospital."

"To me that's just bullying me around and I don't like to be bullied," DeRose said.

Hospital officials came to the council a year ago asking for a letter of support -- a decision the council tabled twice in light of resounding opposition to the proposed location. At that time there was discussion about closing Russell Street and council members said several steps would have to be taken before they even considered the request.

As far as council members know, none of those steps have been taken and none have been approached about closing the street since.

More than two years ago, hospital officials started buying property surrounding the hospital with the goal of building a new facility and leveling the existing building for parking. As plans were put before the public, opposition to the proposal grew, forcing hospital board members to evaluate alternative sites.

Last week consultants, Keith McLaughlin of health care developer Hammes Company, Alan Richman, president of financial advisors InnoVative Capital, and Donald Finlayson, president of Architectural Nexus, recommend a new facility be built at the hospital's existing location.

Which means the closure of Russell Street.

To do that, council members said Tuesday, the hospital board would have to conduct a traffic study and engineering studies concerning the relocation of water, sewer, electric and gas lines and drainage issues -- studies the council suggested a year ago that the hospital board conduct.

Then, the closure of Russell Street would go to a vote.

"I think we as a council should go to a vote and let people decide," DeRose said.

"We're being set up to be the "yes" or "no" for the hospital and I don't think that's right," Councilor Bill Johnston said.

The closure of Russell Street isn't the only point of contention council members have with the project.

At a Nov. 18 public meeting, residents were told the only way to build a new hospital with no tax increase would be to do so in the existing site, saying alternative sites would be more expensive.

Council members said Tuesday that decision was based on inaccurate data which compared a 72,000 square-foot facility on alternative sites to a 60,000 square-foot facility at the existing location.

"The other sites were not reduced to compare square feet," Councilor Don Jones said.

He said a rough estimate of an "apples to apples" comparison, put construction at one of the alternative sites at approximately $2 million higher than the existing site rather than the $7 million plus that was originally estimated.

Jones supported the alternative sites proposed, saying the hospital should build where there was room for it to expand.

The current site is three acres.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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