Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hospital expansion revised

Community-oriented designs for Holy Cross include tower, parking garage; ‘detail work’ remains

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Holy Cross’ preferred expansion plan would include a move to all private rooms, a new tower behind the hospital and a parking garage on the east side.

The plan was devised after a series of meetings between the hospital’s architect and its Silver Spring neighbors who say the proposal is the best fit for the community. The next step will be a cost analysis and study by civil engineers to determine whether the proposal is economically and physically feasible.

‘‘Conceptually, we’re in agreement with our neighbors. Now it’s just a question of doing the detail work,” said Eileen Cahill, vice president of government and community relations at Holy Cross. ‘‘Obviously, nothing is set in stone.”

If the hospital determines the proposal is feasible, the next step would be filing for the necessary zoning permits and a certificate of need to the state, a requirement of any hospital project that will cost more than $10 million, Cahill said.

Holy Cross CEO Kevin Sexton initially met with neighbors in August to announce that Holy Cross needed to add 100 rooms to meet growing patient demands and make the hospital all private. Cahill said it is still unclear how many rooms would be included in the tower addition, which would not exceed eight stories.

Cahill told members of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board on Monday that the expansion had nothing to do with Washington Adventist Hospital’s proposed move out of Takoma Park, but was intended to meet Holy Cross’ existing needs. Patient volume at Holy Cross has grown by 4 percent, she said, due to a very large senior and immigrant population in the area.

However, Holy Cross remained opposed to Washington Adventist’s move to the Calverton⁄White Oak area of Silver Spring, she said, because that would further burden an already overwhelmed emergency department at Holy Cross.

‘‘They’re leaving a critical service area,” Cahill said at the meeting.

Any expansion would be kept within the existing site, Cahill said in a previous interview. To address a crowded emergency department, the hospital plans to open a clinic in Gaithersburg and another in Wheaton to supplement an existing clinic in south Silver Spring. The Gaithersburg clinic should be open by the end of this year; the one in Wheaton is expected to open in the early 2009.

Margot Cook, president of the Forest Grove Citizens Association, said it was always the neighborhood’s hope to avoid any ‘‘in your face” construction on the front side of the site, which is surrounded by homes.

‘‘Everything that we talked with the consultant about, and had addressed at those meetings, is the plan they put forward,” said Cook, who has lived in the area since 1950. ‘‘A couple of people did raise the issue of, ‘When do you reach the saturation point?’ ... But I think generally we’re happy with the way it looks.”

The hospital’s last major expansion was completed in 2005, also led by architect Phil Tobey of the SmithGroup. The community was also involved in those plans, which included 210,000 square feet of space for a new cancer center and emergency room.

Neighbors were generally supportive of that expansion as well, despite decades of bad feelings that preceded it: Neighbors felt they were being shut out from project plans for years.

In contrast, talks between neighbors of Bethesda’s Suburban Hospital, which wants to add a 300,000-square-foot building with a surgical wing, more private rooms and physician office space, and the Bethesda hospital’s officials have been markedly different.

Suburban’s neighbors in the Huntington Terrace community are opposed to the hospital’s plan to close Lincoln Street, which they say is a major connector in the community. Suburban’s plan would also add seven stories of aboveground parking and tear down 23 homes the hospital owns in Huntington Terrace.

Martha Jenkins, a Holy Cross neighbor for 63 years, said Holy Cross officials changed their attitude over the years when they found working with the community allowed them to get things done.

‘‘They’re trying to work with us now rather than just doing whatever they want,” Jenkins said.

The hospital is working on forming a small committee to talk about further traffic mitigation measures. John Howley, a member of the Forest Estates Community Association, said traffic remains the main concern of residents.

Holy Cross already provides shuttle service from several satellite parking lots and subsidizes Metro cards for its employees. It also gives incentives for those who carpool, Cahill said.

Howley said he would like to see more of an effort to promote Metro as an alternative to driving and parking at Holy Cross.

‘‘There’s a lot of very simple things that can be done to increase ridership,” he said.