Residents voice opinions about hospital plans

For months, the public discussion segment of The Memorial Hospital's board meetings has largely been quiet.

Tuesday's meeting, however, began with impassioned speeches by three residents. Two of them specifically addressed the hospital's plans to build a replacement facility.

Randy Kloos, who owns property the board is considering as one of the sites on which to build a new hospital, objected to statements made by hospital consultants at a Nov. 18 public forum on the project.

The consultants indicated that the most feasible, and maybe the only possible scenario, is to build a hospital in phases at the existing location. That's because the proposed 72,000 square-foot facility, with a price tag in the upper $20 million range, likely could not be built without taxpayer support. Consequently, the consultants prepared an analysis of a more reasonable facility requiring 10,000 square feet less new construction and would reuse portions of the existing hospital.

That "existing site reuse" proposal does not allow for future growth because TMH's three-acre Russell Street property is too small, Kloos argued. He implored the board not to "landlock yourself here." He said the board was looking for an immediate fix and not a hospital for the future.

"Is looking to the future for expansion not important anymore?" Kloos asked.

Trustees have addressed the issue of expansion with the consultants they hired to manage the project. In fact, in previous months, the board has already asked several of the questions Kloos raised. The consultants indicated the project has potential for expansion at the current site.

Kloos said the hospital's consultants seem to be advocating that a pared-down version of the 72,000 square-foot facility should be built at the hospital's existing location. This smaller plan calls for a 62,000 square-foot facility, which reuses 12,000 square feet of TMH's current building.

Kloos wondered why the consultants offered the public a revised facility plan for the current site while omitting similarly revised plans for the four other potential sites. He offered the board copies of his own spreadsheet, which showed that a 62,000 square-foot hospital built on his property, for instance, would not need significant taxpayer support.

The board and its consultant's scared the public, he said, when they implied residents would need to fund about $10 million to construct a new hospital at a new location. Referring to his revisions, Kloos said it was possible to build elsewhere under the smaller plan with substantially less taxpayer support.

Kloos' method was to calculate the construction cost for the 72,000 square-foot facility and refigure the project cost based on the 62,000 square-foot plan. While it looks logical, it's not correct, according to Hospital Administrator Randy Phelps.

The "existing site reuse" proposal benefits from some factors not immediately apparent -- factors the Russell Street site and only the Russell Street site can take advantage of.

Several functions requiring thousands of square feet can be reused at TMH's current location, Phelps said. They require no additional construction. They are not represented in the 62,000 square-foot plan because they already exist, Phelps said.

Kloos' idea would work except that the 62,000 square-foot facility, if built at a new location, would lack administrative space, laundry services and material handling, all of which could be reused if the hospital stayed on Russell Street, Phelps said.

In other words, the 62,000 square-foot plan is a lot larger than that, although that isn't immediately clear to someone who hasn't scoured the lengthy cost analysis report.

Phelps estimates the board members have worked more than 120 hours each "wrangling with this issue."

And while Kloos' proposal may not be the answer, it highlights an important issue the board takes seriously, Phelps said. The issue is the appropriate size of the proposed facility.

"We want to revisit that issue with Randy's (Kloos) thoughts in mind," Phelps said. "There's not a board member who doesn't understand what he's getting at."

What he's getting at, ostensibly, is to reduce the size of a tax referendum, if one is proposed.

Phelps said the board will try to see if it's "humanly possible" to build a new building on a new site without taxes, or at least to "minimize the impact of a referendum."

Trustee Gene Bryant said he appreciated Kloos' input and his willingness to offer ideas, but he seemed reluctant to believe that Kloos had found the answer.

"We've got the best people in the business looking at this," Bryant said. "These people are experts in what they do."

The project manager, Hammes Company, and the architect, Architectural Nexus, are well-known for their expertise and experience in building hospitals.

After the meeting, Kloos said the board was ignoring the city's resistance to closing Russell Street -- a necessary component for building the new facility at the current location.

"These guys have known for two years that the city is opposed to closing Russell Street," Kloos said. The Memorial Hospital got ahead of itself by pursuing the plans without an agreement with the city to close down the street.

Kloos was flanked by former Craig mayor Saed Tayyara, who spoke more about communication than money or square footage.

"I do not wish to see anybody speak against the new hospital," Tayyara said. He compared a town without a hospital to a body without a heart.

"My fear at this time is the public relations between the community and the hospital," Tayyara said. He said the "word on the street" is that people do not understand the board's direction.

"Maybe we're not understanding your message," he said.

Tayyara offered to be at the board's disposal to help them communicate with the community.

Members of the board said the hospital plans to engage and listen to the public. The entire process of considering other sites was initiated by the public. And at nearly every recent meeting, the trustees discussed how and when to present the proposals to the public.

Early in September, when the building committee first looked at the construction cost reports, some people expected the board to choose a site. Building committee chair Ron Danner started that meeting by saying, "We're not going to be selecting a site."

Danner was adamant that the board would not proceed to the selection phase without public input.

To date, the board has not taken an official position to choose a site. Bryant said the project is still in the early, conceptual phase. Many particulars have yet to be addressed.

Trustees will meet Dec. 2 with a representative from Dan Jones & Associates, a company hired to carry out public opinion polling of Moffat County residents.

"This will be an attempt on our part to communicate with the community and see what their thoughts are," Danner said.

Trustees also discussed sending an "informational mailing" to all residents -- one that has "no bias at all, just the facts," according to Hospital Administrator Randy Phelps.

With regard to Kloos' comments, Trustee Gene Bryant said, "I do appreciate the work he's putting into it."

"We do have to look very hard at the required square-footage," Bryant said.

But he said Kloos' reworking of the construction costs was oversimplified.

"I think it's very simplistic because you have to look at all the factors," Bryant said.

He compared the process to looking at the moon at night -- the closer one gets, the more one sees. The lengthy, complicated process of building a hospital requires that kind of dynamic approach, Bryant said.

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com

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