Military officials are already planning the next addition at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda.
New plans for a medical building, to replace five existing buildings, and a new research facility for the Uniformed Services University of Health Services, also located on the Bethesda campus, are part of the military’s improvement plan for the campus. Military officials will hold two community meetings in September to gather input from residents as part of the project’s environmental impact statement, a study that evaluates how the construction would affect the environment and surrounding community.
News of the military’s plans have left the hospital’s neighbors feeling as if they can’t catch a break. The federally mandated Base Realignment and Closure merger of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and National Naval Medical Center on Rockville Pike is expected to bring about 2,500 employees for a total of about 10,000 workers, and double annual visits to 1 million. Maryland and Montgomery County are working on roads projects to address the influx of traffic, but none of the construction planned for nearby intersections is complete. Walter Reed officially closes in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 15.
“It’s like, wait, wait, wait — I thought we were finished. Now there’s this other step? Is this it?” said Ed Krauze, president of the Parkview Citizens’ Association. The neighborhood, located along Cedar Lane, shares a land boundary with the military campus.
The planned campus additions include a 563,000 square feet medical building that would replace existing buildings, while adding about 237,000 square feet of space. The building would retain the original footprint, with the additional space added to the top of the building. The space would be used for single patient rooms, which would replace rooms with two beds and other medical services. The university building would be a new 341,000 square feet research facility. Both projects include parking garages.
The two are separate projects, but are being combined in one environmental impact statement study to better evaluate the full affect on the community, said Capt. Michael Malanoski, commanding officer for Naval Support Activity Bethesda.
The new buildings are not expected to significantly add to the number of employees or visitors traveling to campus because their purpose is to improve existing facilities and services — not add new, Malanoski said.
But some residents are concerned that even if the projects will not bring additional visitors and worsen traffic, they are coming too soon after the large-scale construction needed to prepare the campus for the hospital expansion.
“There are some people who think we should get through this first phase and see how the dust settles before we launch into a new project,” said Ilaya Hopkins, who represents east Bethesda on a community committee for the merger, the BRAC Implementation Committee.
The two new projects could not be included in the work related to the federally mandated closure of Walter Reed, Malanoski said. Money for the Walter Reed BRAC was set aside specifically for projects needed to relocate the hospital’s patients and staff.
“What do you need to do to move Walter Reed to Bethesda — if it wasn’t related to that move, we were not allowed to make improvements to it,” Malanoski said.
The new construction would require up to $85 million in upgrades to utilities on campus and at the Pepco substation that serves the military base, Malanoski said. Of the total needed, $37 million is included in the fiscal 2013 budget, including $5 million Pepco estimated would be needed to upgrade the substation, he said.
The current power grids have enough power to support the existing campus and projects already in construction, Malanoski said.
The first step of those projects will be an Environmental Impact Statement, a report required by the federal government that assesses the affects the project would have on the environment and surrounding community.
The two community meetings planned are intended to provide residents an opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns about the project. Military officials do not address questions at the meeting, but rather record the questions and include answers as part of the final report.
The community involvement process for the environmental impact statement completed prior to the BRAC construction has prepared Bethesda residents for the upcoming meetings, Hopkins said.
“I think the community is prepared to look hard at these projects and come to these meetings ready to ask the tough questions,” she said.