Hospital Begins Formal Review

Plans for $42 Million New Facility Set to Be Filed in Oak Bluffs; MVC Land Use Committee Will Discuss on Monday

By JULIA WELLS

The Martha's Vineyard Community Hospital, much in the news this year with its ambitious $42 million capital campaign, is now set to file formal plans for a new hospital building off Linton Lane in the Eastville section of Oak Bluffs.

Hospital leaders said they expected to file an application for a building permit with the Oak Bluffs building inspector by late this week or Monday. The application will trigger a regulatory process that begins with a development of regional impact (DRI) review by the Martha's Vineyard Commission.

A pre-public hearing review is scheduled with the commission land use planning committee on Monday at 5:30 p.m. A public hearing on the plan is expected to be set for some time in July.

"We are ready, and we are considering this as the beginning of the formal process," hospital chief executive officer Tim Walsh said this week. "We are anxious to get going," he added.

The plan calls for replacing the decrepit hospital with a state-of-the-art, 19-bed clinical facility. The current hospital building dates to 1974 and is in extremely poor condition. Buckets are routinely placed in the hallways when it rains.

The project has been in the planning stages for more than two years.

Hospital leaders have been engaged in informal talks with the commission for a number of months, chiefly over the issue of whether the hospital should consider an alternative location for the new building. It has become something of a sticking point. Hospital spokesmen say that building in an alternative location would drive the cost of the new building to prohibitive levels - possibly as high as $60 million or $70 million. MVC members have questioned the numbers and this winter appointed a subcommittee to explore alternative building sites. The subcommittee has prepared a report, although all of the sites listed in the report are privately owned and not listed for sale on the open market.

Mr. Walsh said he expects location will be one topic for discussion at the commission subcommittee meeting on Monday night. "We will be prepared to talk about that," he said.

He said available parking is another issue that still needs to be sorted out. He said the hospital is negotiating with the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health to buy a 1.7-acre piece of vacant land across the road from the emergency room and adjacent to the state police barracks.

The commission and the hospital also are working jointly to commission a professional risk assessment that will evaluate the site for vulnerability and safety in the event of a hundred-year storm.

MVC executive director Mark London said the assessment is aimed at obtaining an independent professional opinion about the risk factors associated with the hospital site. He said such assessments have taken on more meaning since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast near New Orleans, La., last year.

"We want to find a way we can get an objective view of how serious the risk is and how to mitigate it," Mr. London said, adding: "We are hoping to draft a scope of services and have a proposal for some options about who might do this. The questions are, how serious is the risk of having a hospital in this location? Is it very serious and should it be reconsidered, or is it common and needing only of some mitigation measures? Part two is what are the mitigation measures. We've been trying to get an idea."

Mr. London also said he believes the subject of alternative location will be discussed again on Monday, but he said MVC members do understand the unusual factors involved, including the time-sensitive capital campaign. He said in the end the objective from both sides should be the same.

"No one wants the hospital to have to spend an extra $20 to $25 million unnecessarily," Mr. London said, adding: "But if it is determined that this is a disastrous site, better to find that out before you spend $40 million. Let's get clear answers for the hospital, the commission and the community at large - that's the only objective."

Once it begins, the review process for the hospital project is expected to take several months to complete; in addition to the MVC, the hospital project must obtain approval from a variety of town boards, including the Oak Bluffs conservation commission and sewer commission.

The capital campaign, which is by far the largest such campaign in the history of the Vineyard, is also still ongoing, and at last report the hospital was still $10 million shy of the $42 million goal. The entire sum will be raised from private donations. The campaign was launched on July 4 of last year with the announcement that trustees had secured more than $20 million in pledges. In December trustees announced that the amount had exceeded $30 million. Contributions and pledges have come in from all segments of the Vineyard community, and this winter the campaign turned its attention to year-round residents.

Mr. Walsh said this week that there are no new numbers to report.

Warren Spector, who is co-chairman of the capital campaign, agreed.

"Our last public announcement was north of $30 million. We are making slow but steady progress since that point, and we are in the process of contacting all the people who have made significant gifts to the campaign to see if they can help us," Mr. Spector said. He added: "We are really gearing up for the final push after Memorial Day. My view is that there are still lots of people who haven't been individually contacted. The last phase of the campaign is critical and actually very difficult. We were very fortunate to get some large gifts early to kick off the campaign, but we still need a lot."

Mr. Spector said the winter campaign has been productive. "The campaign over the winter has done a lot to overcome misinformation about the hospital . . . we've built social capital, we've raised money on the Island from the Islanders and we need to continue to do both," he said, adding: "It's important not only symbolically but also financially . . . this is not going to succeed without extremely broad participation. We still need millions and millions of dollars and we need to raise that money this summer, so we can actually break ground this winter." He concluded:

"And once we get approval from the Martha's Vineyard Commission, that will be a big benefit to us in the last stage of the fund-raising."