Trustees consider higher ground



March 23, 2011 - 12:00 AM

A hospital high on a hill is now in the sights of Allen County Hospital trustees .
Longtime Iolan Sally Huskey has offered to sell 20 acres of property at the intersection of U.S. 169 and Oregon Road as the site for the new hospital.
Gary Hoffmeier, an acquaintance of Huskey’s, brought the proposal to hospital trustees at their meeting Tuesday night, as he had earlier in the day with Allen County commissioners.
Trustees discussed the proposal for more than an hour in open session to the delight of an audience of about 15. 
For the architects and engineers of the $16.6 million hospital, the site is a dream: Virgin soil and freedom to position the hospital as they please.
Also weighing in favor of the new site is its cost — $5,000 an acre.
For hospital trustees, the challenge is to weigh the benefits of the new site in the countryside against an in-town site they had been pursuing.
For now, too many unknowns exist to declare the site an advantage not only in the short-term, but also into the future.
Trustees have kept their focus mainly on 17-plus acres on the east entrance of Iola. Those parcels have been appraised at an average of $35,600 an acre and are owned by eight landowners.
If all landowners had been amenable to the purchases, the total package would be in the neighborhood of “about $620,000,” said Harry Lee, chairman of the trustees.
Trustees have been comfortable with that price tag because of the formal appraisals conducted by Aul & Hatfield of Lawrence. A couple of buildings on some of the sites bumped up the price about $15,000, Lee said.
But the process has not ensued as trustees had hoped. As of Tuesday night, at least one landowner remains adamant that the price is too low for his parcel, said trustee Jay Kretzmeier, and is prepared to force the county into the condemnation process.

THAT’S NOT the “harmonious” relationship trustees had hoped would transpire between the parties.
It’s also the reason Hoffmeier approached Huskey about the sale of her land.
“I’m not opposed to the East Street site,” he said. “But there’s been too much trouble with getting the land.”
Others in the room echoed Hoffmeier’s sentiment.
The prospect of the land settlement going to the courts, “has turned people against the site,” said Mary Kay Heard. Heard served on the Hospital Facilities Commission last summer investigating area hospitals as well as possible sites in Iola.
“The commission liked the East Street site for two reasons,” Heard said. “Access to utilities would be easy and a new hospital there would clean up the entrance to Iola.”
“Cleaning up” East Street refers to land that once was the site of smelters that operated for about 20 years beginning in the 1890s. Between the existing Emprise Bank on the corner of Kentucky and East streets and The Family Physicians, 1408 East St., lies land that for the past 25 years has held mostly derelict buildings. Today, the buildings have been leveled, leaving a wide expanse of weed-infested asphalt.
How much it will cost to “clean” the contaminated soil left by the smelters is still unknown. Soil experts from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment are expected to inform trustees next Wednesday of the extent of the contamination. From there, those with Murray Construction will determine the cost of that remediation, said Phil Schultz, an engineer with Murray.
How much of the remediation that can be done with in-kind labor by county crews will also mitigate the eventual price tag.

CERTAINLY, the easy sale of Huskey’s land makes the new site attractive, trustees said.
At his presentation, Hoffmeier also predicted that utilities could easily be extended to the site that lies two miles north of Iola and just beyond its city limits. Because of that location, city utilities, other than sewer, would not be used to service the new hospital. The hospital currently adds about $325,000 a year to city coffers through use of its sewer, water and electricity demands.
The more rural location is within service territory of Heartland Rural Electric Cooperative. Two Heartland representatives attended Tuesday night’s meeting to support Hoffmeier’s study that it could adequately supply the hospital with needed power. Heartland also provides the new Christian Church and Strickler Dairy with electricity.
As for water, it would be provided by Public Wholesale Water District No. 5. Fire protection would remain with Iola Fire Department, which includes rural district No. 2.
Schultz said he would need to confirm Hoffmeier’s ballpark figure of $450,000 that includes the land and utility hookups.
The new location has good visibility from U.S. Hwy. 169, he said, and access should pose no problems.
“Hospitals don’t create a lot of traffic,” Schultz said, and thought that the existing county roads leading to the hospital would be adequate.
Larry Peterson, chief financial officer for the hospital, said he was relaying a concern from Pat Rowe, plant operations director of the hospital, about the “air quality” of the rural site which sits northeast of Strickler Dairy.
A hospital draws air from the outside on a continual basis, Peterson said, as opposed to a home that recirculates air through its heating and cooling systems.
Because of the prevailing winds from the southwest, Peterson said Rowe was concerned the sometimes odiferous fumes from the dairy would infiltrate the hospital.
It’s true the hospital would lie directly in the path of the prevailing winds, Schultz said, but residents who live northwest of the dairy said the smell rarely presents a problem.
Joyce Heismeyer, chief executive officer of the hospital and who lives at the corner of Kentucky and Oregon roads, said odors from the dairy are noticeable, “five days a year. They are not a problem.”
Trustee Deb Roe, who lives in nearby Melody Acres, agreed.

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