Hospital Building Plans Ready for Commission

By IAN FEIN

Patients in any one of the new 24 state-of-the-art rooms on the second floor of the proposed Martha's Vineyard Community Hospital would have views of Lagoon Pond, Vineyard Haven harbor, or a garden slated for the first-story roof of the 90,000-square-foot addition, according to formal plans for the $42 million project that were filed with the Martha's Vineyard Commission last week.

The latest designs are the culmination of more than three years of planning to renovate, expand and replace the decrepit 1972 hospital with a green-designed facility on the 13-acre property off Beach Road in the Eastville section of Oak Bluffs.

And after its land use planning subcommittee holds the last in a series of informal meetings with hospital officials on Monday afternoon, the full commission on August 24 will hold its first formal public hearing on the project, which it is reviewing as a development of regional impact (DRI). The new hospital will be the highest profile project to come before the commission since the golf course project in the Southern Woodlands four years ago.

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Tim Walsh, chief executive officer at the hospital, said yesterday that he is eager to begin the formal review process.

"We're looking forward to getting the ball rolling on our hearings, and we're optimistic that we'll do okay," he said. "We've been working with the staff at the commission for quite a while now, and we have some good ideas and approaches for how to structure our proposal. We're hoping this will do it."

If approved by the commission, the hospital project will also need approval from several town boards, including the Oak Bluffs conservation commission, planning board and sewer commission. Mr. Walsh said the hospital hopes to obtain all the necessary permits by Dec. 31, with construction to start soon after.

A private nonprofit, the current hospital was built in 1972 and is in extremely poor condition. It features cramped corners and inadequate space, and demographic data suggests that the expanding and aging population will have a greater demand for services. The new proposal would increase the total number of hospital beds from 15 to 24.

The new 90,000-square-foot, two-story addition would be built in front of the Windemere Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Facility, which shares space and services with the hospital, and would house all of the inpatient rooms, as well as the surgery, imaging, outpatient services and the emergency department.

The front of the original 1929 cottage building would be demolished, and the 1972 wing would be renovated to house physician and hospital administration offices. The proposal calls for about 11,000 square feet of demolition between the two existing buildings.

Including both the hospital and Windemere facilities, the project would increase the total size of buildings on the property from 140,000 square feet to 220,000 square feet. The current design would add only 10 on-site parking spaces to the existing 260, but would incorporate plans for employee parking on a piece of vacant land across Eastville avenue that could accommodate over 100 spaces.

The new facility is planned to meet hospital needs for the next five years, but was designed to allow for future expansions. The expected life of the new building will be 40 years.

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The central issue during the commission hearings is expected to be whether hospital leaders have adequately considered an alternative location for the new facility.

Hospital officials say that changing the location would be economically unfeasible and could add delays and uncertainty that would jeopardize the entire project. When they first discussed plans for a new building in 2003, hospital leaders listed the price tag as $30 million. But the estimated cost quickly soared to $50 million, so they revised their plans from a completely new facility to a renovation and expansion, and unveiled a $42 million price tag in June 2004.

Instead of going to towns or taxpayers, hospital leaders are trying to raise the entire $42 million from private donations - an unprecedented fundraising effort on the Vineyard. They announced last week that they have topped $36 million, and are now less than $6 million shy of their goal.

Hospital officials have said that building a new facility in a different location would cost between $60 million and $70 million.

Some commission members, however, say that the Eastville site poses a slew of nearly insurmountable problems.

The hospital is located in a flood zone and surrounded by several wetlands. The size of the present site also limits potential for additional parking or future expansion.

Congestion on Beach Road has raised concerns about access to the emergency room, as well as its proximity to the Lagoon Pond drawbridge, which has suffered frequent closures and is slated for a complicated, two-phase replacement project in the coming decade. Some commission members have said the hospital should be in a more central location on the Island, where it could be more accessible from other towns.

The commission this winter formed a subcommittee with hospital officials to explore possible alternative locations. They looked at 15 properties that were larger than 10 acres, had direct access to one or more major roads, and were within roughly three miles of the blinker intersection of Oak Bluffs. The committee found the two most promising sites to be the 55-acre Goodale Tree Farm off Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road in Oak Bluffs and a roughly 15-acre piece of land across from the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School.

The commission and hospital have also hired a group from Woods Hole to carry out a risk assessment of the current site, which should be completed within the next two months. The study will evaluate the site for vulnerability and safety in the case of a major hurricane or particularly large storm. The hospital is located close to the water, and stands only about 15 feet above sea level.