Two sites dropped from ACH consideration

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August 3, 2011 - 12:00 AM

If it were a four-horse race, two potential sites for a new Allen County Hospital would be well in the lead, ACH Trustee Harry Lee Jr. said Tuesday.
With that in mind, Lee and his fellow trustees formally declared that they will no longer pursue plans to build a new hospital on either East Street or at Cedarbrook Golf Course.
Still in the mix: land owned by Sally Huskey near the intersection of Oregon Road and U.S. 169 north of Iola; and a 24.9-acre parcel just north of Fountain Villa on North Kentucky Street.
Trustees will have a better grasp of which would be better suited for a hospital after they receive engineers’ evaluations of the land on North Kentucky, owned by former Iolan Chris Hopper.
Trustees voted Friday to place a $5,000 option on the Hopper land, authorizing engineers to evaluate the property for its suitability for the hospital.
Engineer Phil Schultze and architect David Wright, who have worked in league with the trustees as they examine where to build the hospital, said they hoped to have the reports in place by Aug. 16.
Initial views of the Hopper land are encouraging, Schultze said. Preliminary cost estimates put site preparation at about $741,000, the least expensive of the four sites. The Huskey property’s site costs have been pegged at $767,000.
On the other hand, remediating the site on East Street would cost upwards of $1.4 million, Schultze noted, well beyond what the county has budgeted. And the Cedarbrook property — offered at no cost by Iola City Council members — would cost about $1.3 million, largely because the land would have to be built up for proper water drainage.
Trustees also pointed out that while the Cedarbrook land was offered free of charge, they still would have to buy some property because the city land does not connect to Oregon Road. Trustee Jay Kretzmeier also noted that the land would be inaccessible from the south until Cottonwood Street is extended.
“That was a big hurdle for me,” he said.
Trustee Patti Boyd spoke briefly about a meeting she attended Monday with Iola City Council representatives to discuss the city’s concerns about where the hospital would be built.
The city is eager to see the hospital built within city limits or close enough that Iola could annex the property and provide utilities for the medical facility.
Boyd declined to mention specifics of the meeting, only that “it went well,” an opinion confirmed by Iola City Councilman Ken Rowe, who sat in the audience of the trustees meeting.
“We’re grateful that the city offered us the land,” Boyd said. “They took the initiative to help us solve a problem.”
But the site preparation costs would make the Cedarbrook site unfeasible, Boyd and the hospital trustees agreed.
Lee also noted that regardless of where the hospital is built, the trustees have been assured by Community National Bank that investor support would be in place to construct a nearby medical arts building.
“That’s been a big relief,” Lee said.

THE FOREMOST concern about building on the Hopper land may be water drainage.
Wright said until the engineer’s reports are available, he could not predict whether water would drain from the land to the east or south. If it drains to the south, water would likely make its way to Coon Creek, a waterway that meanders through the heart of Iola. Coon Creek also has become a headache because of flooding during rainy weather.
The hospital land would be engineered with water detention in mind, Schultze responded, so that the water would be released at the same rate as if the property were still undeveloped green space.

WRIGHT spoke about the timeline for the hospital’s construction.
The goal, to begin construction before winter arrives, may no longer be possible because of the waiting period to receive approval from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The county must receive CMS approval before bonds may be issued. However, the CMS approval process — which could take four months or longer — cannot begin until a site is found.
“You are looking at Dec. 1 for CMS approval if you applied today, which you are not ready to do,” Schultze said.
Trustees also said they would prefer to give the community a glimpse of the hospital’s construction plans before building begins. Wright said those plans could take shape as the county applies for CMS approval.
“We could get it together in a couple of weeks,” he said.
Larry Macha spoke with trustees about the Hopper land, noting that he owned adjoining property.
Because the 24.9 acres are more than sufficient to house a hospital and other medical facilities, such as a clinic or medical campus, Macha wondered if the hospital could be positioned to minimize noise disruptions on nearby residential properties, including his. He also offered to purchase a “buffer zone” from the county.
Because the trustees’ next steps hinge upon engineers’ reports from the Hopper land — a process that will take several days — they agreed to delay their next meeting until Aug. 16 in the Mary Ellen Stadler Conference Room at ACH. The  7 p.m. meeting will be open to the public.

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