Vic Updike, facilities manager of The Memorial Hospital, walks through the boiler room, located under the hospital. The equipment was installed during the 1970s renovation, Updike said, and contains two boilers in case one needs repair.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Vic Updike, facilities manager of The Memorial Hospital, walks through the boiler room, located under the hospital. The equipment was installed during the 1970s renovation, Updike said, and contains two boilers in case one needs repair.

Limits and liabilities

TMH officials: New hospital the only option for improving health care

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Vic Updike points out the area of the roof covering the older part of the hospital. The area contains material that is safe but, if work was to be done, would need to be replaced to be meet code.

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Vic Updike talks about one of the air handlers in the basement of the hospital. The system is old and was built before new energy-efficient codes were put in place. Currently, the system must make both cold and hot air year round to heat and cool the building.

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A crack spans the west wall of the lab. So far, Vic Updike isn't sure what is causing the problem and can't do anything about it, although he plans to take care of the crack in the future.

— Vic Updike, The Memorial Hospital's facilities manager, emphasized Friday two major points, facts he hopes voters keep in mind in coming weeks, regarding the current hospital building.

"The facility is safe," he said, "but we have to do a lot of work to keep it that way.

"We always try to keep it looking and running as best we can. We are just at the edge of where it's going to take a lot of money to keep that happening."

An architectural layout of TMH reveals a 24-year-gap between the present and the last major addition to the 76,000-square-foot facility on Russell Street. Some hospital sections, the footprint indicates, date back to 1949 and 1959.

TMH officials used the sections, and the decades-ago they were built, as evidence of an antiquated facility with limited space - hindering some of the services that can be offered to patients - and no ability for expansion and expensive to renovate.

Which leads to the Nov. 6 election.

In less than two weeks, voters will decide the fate of TMH's proposed ballot question, 1A, which asks the public to approve a 3-mill tax package for a new $42.6 million facility. The new building would encompass approximately 84,475 square feet, or 9,000 more than the current building.

The problem with renovation, Updike said, lies with building codes. He said most renovation projects at TMH would require the additional work - and cost - of bringing parts of the building up to current code.

"We can make cosmetic improvements," he said, "but once you go beyond scratching the surface, you're really opening yourself up to a can of worms.

"That's when the money starts to roll."

Updike used the TMH operating rooms as an example.

To renovate the two operating rooms, which entail 288 and 440 square feet, respectively, and have been deemed too small for some complicated surgeries, the hospital also would be required to replace wooden trusses in the roof and temporarily remove an air-handling unit.

By contrast, the new hospital facility proposes three operating rooms.

"The building is safe," Updike said. "It's not a question of that. It's the codes. : That's a real ball and chain around our leg for a lot of things."

Operating room renovations would cost about $1 million per room, TMH officials said.

Updike also pointed out Friday several heating and cooling system components that are aging, require constant maintenance and lack energy efficiency. Replacing the components also would be costly, he said.

Overall, the facilities manager said he has a "laundry list" of about 15 improvements that need to be made to TMH within the next two years, and another 15 improvements "lying under the surface."

Hospital-wide renovations would limit TMH in serving patients, said Samantha Johnston, TMH service excellence officer and spokeswoman, by closing the hospital for months at a time.

"We could not accommodate the upgrades without closing the hospital facility for several months, which would adversely affect our employees, the hospital's financial stability and our ability to provide medical care in Moffat County," Johnston said.

In the final analysis, a public advisory group determined renovation would be a costly, time-consuming and less effective solution to building a new hospital.

"Several years ago, renovating the hospital was an option," she said. "However, current remodel costs have not been figured because the city, county and public site selection process ruled out the current site as a viable option for our health care.

"Not only would a remodel come at a cost of millions of dollars, a remodel would not solve our current space limitations and/or allow us to expand to address privacy issues."

Should the ballot question fail, TMH would regroup and come back to voters next year with a tax proposal, Johnston said.

"TMH cannot afford on its own to replace the current facility that we have," she said. "Without taxpayer support, we cannot build a new facility. We will come back to the taxpayers and ask again next year. Long-term if the project is not supported, we will have to do the (renovations)."

Stan Hathhorn, a Moffat County resident and owner of Magnum Metals, opposes both the hospital ballot question, and a $29.5 million bond issue question posed by the Moffat County School District.

As a commercial business owner, Hatthorn said he'll pay $2,600 per year more in taxes with an approved hospital and school district ballot question.

His objection to the tax proposals also stem from a disagreement with the language in the ballot questions.

He believes there is nothing in place to stop either the hospital or school district, years from now, from continuing the new taxes after the financial obligations for the new buildings have been satisfied.

"Who's going to flip the switch off?" he said. "Who's going to remember? Nobody."

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