City offers free land for hospital



July 19, 2011 - 12:00 AM

Allen County Hospital trustees have another site to consider for construction of a new hospital, although an architect helping design the new medical facility has already spoken out against the proposal.
The Iola City Council Monday unanimously voted to offer to the county 16.9 acres of land, free of charge, on what was a portion of Cedarbrook Golf Course on the north edge of town.
With the offering, trustees now have two prominent locations to scrutinize, now that they’ve all but backed away from plans to build the new hospital on East Street. They also are considering purchasing land owned by Iolan Sally Huskey north of Oregon Road, which is outside Iola’s city limits.
The city’s offer came after ACH trustees explained earlier this month the city’s options regarding annexation and utility services if the Huskey/Oregon site is chosen.
For example, the city could provide electricity, even though the land currently is serviced by Heartland Rural Electric Cooperative. It’s increasingly unlikely, however, that Iola would provide natural gas or water service to the site north of town.
Those utility issues may be enough to curtail the city’s support of seeing a hospital built outside Iola’s city limits, Iola Mayor Bill Shirley said. He predicted the council would not support building the hospital north of Oregon Road.
Shirley said the city is eager to have the hospital built in town if at all possible, thus ensuring Iola would be the sole provider of electricity, water, natural gas and sewer services to the hospital.
The hospital would assume the costs associated with extending sewer services to the Oregon site. Extending electricity would be on the city’s dime. Traditionally, the city pays to extend electric, water and natural gas service for new development. It’s the builders’ responsibility to pay for the sewer.
Hospital Trustee Harry Lee said it would be up to the city to determine if its profit margin was enough to consider extending electric service. Lee added that the city would expect to generate only about $2,000 annually in profits if it sells water to the hospital, which may not be enough to justify the cost of extending water lines to the Huskey property.
The city could assume responsibility for providing electricity to the Huskey property if the land were annexed before the hospital is built. Otherwise, the city would be required to pay a franchise fee or otherwise acquire the rights from Heartland.
It also would be unlikely the city could extend natural gas without a significant investment because there is insufficient gas pressure just to extend gas lines north of Oregon.
The Cedarbrook site has a number of advantages Shirley contended, in that it would be less expensive to extend utilities to Cedarbrook than north of town.
“Yes, it’s available now, but we don’t want to hurry you,” Shirley said.

THE OFFER drew an appreciative response from Jay Kretzmeier, a hospital trustee.
“I can’t think of a better example of cooperation between two boards,” Kretzmeier said.
But the offer raises red flags for Steve Lewallen, architect with Health Facilities Group.
The Cedarbrook site is “a beautiful piece of property, great options and a wonderful price,” Lewallen wrote in an email to trustees.
But “the one overriding factor for me is that it does not have good visibility,” Lewallen wrote in the email, shared with council members.
One of the trustees’ criteria for selecting a new site was that the new hospital be visible from either U.S. 169 or U.S. 54.
The Cedarbrook site is close to neither.
Access is the other main issue. The city’s land does not connect to Oregon Road. Trustees also would have to purchase a thin strip of property that abuts the road. There have been no discussions because the landowner has been out of town this week.
The other access point to Cedarbrook — Cottonwood Street — is less than ideal because Cottonwood does connect with Oregon, which means as is, the hospital would be accessible only from the south.
“In our new age of outpatient-centered health care, location and visibility cannot be ignored as being a primary requirement in our business model placement,” Lewallen said. “This is not something that can be easily measured. The most important step right now — and one we will never be able to redo — is to pick a site that gives the best potential for this hospital to thrive and succeed. It is my opinion that that is the (Oregon) site.”
The Cedarbrok site would not be a fatal mistake, but would not be considered a good investment for the trustees, Lewallen concluded. “Having helped to place several hospitals over the years, I feel certain of this.”
Still, Shirley wondered if a hospital’s visibility was garnering too much emphasis.
“I could understand this being an issue if it was a  gas station or restaurant,” Shirley said, adding that hospitals in Chanute and Fort Scott both are successful despite not being visible from a nearby highway.
City Council member Scott Stewart was even more succinct in speaking with a Register reporter after the meeting.
“If I’m driving along the highway and I see a hospital,” Stewart said, “that’s not going to make me want to stop for a colonoscopy.”
One council member, Beverly Franklin, said she favored the Oregon Road site because of potential housing development near there and the nearby First Christian Church.

LEE AND Kretzmeier thanked the council members for their consideration and promised a hearty debate at the trustees’ next meeting July 26.
“I’m certain this will generate plenty of discussion,” Lee said.

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