MVC lists optional hospital sites
A Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) subcommittee this week identified three properties, culled from a list of 30, as the top locations it would like Martha's Vineyard Hospital officials to consider as alternative building sites for a new hospital.
The MVC compiled its short list without speaking to the owners of the properties in question. The owner of one of the properties at the top of the list, Jeremiah Goodale, described that process as "bizarre."
The hospital is currently engaged in a fundraising campaign to raise $42 million to build on the current Beach Road site in Eastville. Hospital officials insist it is the only viable financial alternative, given the estimated cost of more than $70 million to build on a new site.
The MVC created the subcommittee to look for alternatives following a presentation to the full commission by hospital officials in November that left some MVC members skeptical about the site decision.
Meeting in the hospital conference room on Monday, MVC subcommittee members identified their top three choices of potential sites, based on an evaluation of a set of criteria that included size, access to major roadways, and proximity to the Blinker intersection of Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road and Barnes Road, considered the most central location. The top three, in order, are: the so-called Goodale tree farm just past the NStar building on the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road; the Bayes-Norton Farm, noted for its in-season farm stand, located on the other side of the same road; and refuse district transfer station land located off the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road near the Martha's Vineyard Airport.
The MVC approached the task of identifying the most desirable sites by relying on maps and technical information. The views of the property owners were not a factor in the preliminary selection process.
In a telephone conversation Tuesday evening, Jamie Norton, a high school math teacher, said he only learned of the MVC interest in his family's farm as a possible hospital site when he read about in The Times (Jan. 12, Imagineering - MVC weighs alternative hospital sites).
After reading the story, he immediately called Jim Athearn, owner of Morning Glory Farm and a member of the MVC.
"I told him, you know, you're a farmer too. And he laughed and said, no one is taking it away from you," recalled Mr. Norton.
Mr. Norton said he assumes the MVC is looking at the property because of its size and proximity to the blinker. Had anybody called him before adding his farmland, which has been in the family since 1836, to the short list, he would have told them it is not for sale. "Bayes-Norton Farm, that is us. That is where we do all our farming," he said. "We are not about to part with it."
Mr. Norton questioned why the MVC would even be discussing his family's property without first speaking to him. "They haven't talked to us, and if they started to talk to us they would realize it is not an option," he said. "But nothing surprises me with the commission."
In a telephone conversation Tuesday night, Mr. Goodale, owner of Goodale Construction Company and the so-called tree farm site, said that the only conversation he had had with any member of the MVC was a quick exchange with Chris Murphy at his sand pit. "He was just flying through the pit there and said they were looking for alternative properties, and in his mind, that was one possibility," said Mr. Goodale.
Mr. Goodale said he has been holding onto the property for possible future expansion, something he said remains a question, but that he is not actively looking to sell it.
Asked what he thought about the MVC discussing his property without first speaking with him, Mr. Goodale said, "It's a little bizarre. There seem to be some people that got some ideas in their head but they aren't doing the legwork."
The Monday afternoon meeting was attended by Mark London, MVC executive director, and commissioners John Best of Tisbury, Chris Murphy of Chilmark, Paul Strauss of the Dukes County Commission, and Ned Orleans of Tisbury, the subcommittee chairman.
Tim Walsh, hospital chief executive officer and the only hospital official present, sat quietly through most of the discussion, which focused on identifying possible sites as quickly as possible, so as not to delay the hospital. Mr. London said the basic task at hand was to determine if there are any alternative sites.
Mr. Murphy pushed for quick action. He said now is the time to speak with the owners of the properties identified by the committee, to determine their interest. "If one of them says yes, then you start that discussion," he said.
Mr. Walsh was asked for his view. He reiterated his often-stated opinion that the cost of building on any new location is not economically feasible. He said any move that resulted in splitting the facility and leaving Windemere behind would spell doom for the Island's only nursing home.
"You can say that we did not do all the numbers," said Mr. Walsh, "but take Windemere's square footage and take the square footage cost to build on the Island and that is what it is going to take. You are looking for me to say, how do I approach this? I can't even get into it. To me, it is not going to happen, and I've said that over and over again."
Mr. Murphy reminded Mr. Walsh that he had agreed to keep an open mind while the subcommittee explored other alternatives. He said if the location issue could be dealt with in this preliminary phase, it would help to smooth the actual MVC permitting process when the question is sure to come up.
Mr. London said the committee might or might not agree with the assertion that there is no other viable site. He said that if a site were identified, the Island community would then have to decide if it would be worth the extra cost.
Putting aside Mr. Walsh's financial assessment, the committee members said it is up to them to move ahead and fulfill their charge to identify alternative sites. "So, here we are talking about pieces of land, and we have never talked to owners," said Mr. Murphy. "It is time to bring in owners and ask where they stand."
With a reference to a Times reporter in the room, Mr. Murphy said, "Our deadline is The Times deadline, because it is not fair to have someone reading about it in the paper."
Mr. Orleans said the question to the owners would be, are they interested in selling if the hospital wants to pursue another location. Mr. Best volunteered to call Jamie Norton. Mr. Murphy said he would speak to Mr. Goodale.
Mr. Strauss questioned whether the committee had fulfilled its mandate by simply identifying available sites, or whether contacting property owners is required. Mr. Orleans said the question is not whether sites are available but are there properties that should be considered.
Asked by a Times reporter why the MVC was involving itself in a land purchase discussion, Mr. Orleans said, "We are not involved in land purchase, we are involved in land availability. The two are different."
"Absolutely," agreed Mr. Murphy.
Mr. Best offered his assessment. "We are not even involved in availability, we are just involved in land planning," he said. "The motivation of the commission in my mind is that from a good planning standpoint, for an absolutely essential service such as this, you need to at least make a token effort at optimizing the location. Whether practical or not for the hospital, we should at least look at it."
Mr. Murphy said that while the hospital and community had many different concerns and issues, the two aren't necessarily the same. "The commission really is representing the community, not the hospital," said Mr. Murphy. "Ideally, and they are working hard to make it that way. This is not an adversarial situation. It is a question of us all working together for the best outcome for the Island, and hopefully that is what we will get."
Regarding the question of searching for a site before identifying where the money would come from to build a more expensive replacement to the existing hospital, Mr. Murphy said it was just a question of "where you put cart and where you put the horse."