MVC wraps up 15 hours of hospital DRI hearings
An off-site employee parking lot and site location remained the main areas of contention for the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) in the final two hearing sessions last week regarding Martha's Vineyard Hospital's proposal for a new medical facility.
After a five-hour opening session held two weeks ago at the regional high school, the MVC continued the public hearing to Nov. 8 at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Tisbury and November 9 at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown.
In impassioned closing remarks last Thursday night, Tim Sweet, vice chairman of the hospital's trustees, told the commissioners, "There seems to be a penchant here for making perfect the enemy of great - and we've got a great plan here."
Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC) chairman Christina Brown chaired the sessions, encouraging public testimony at both.
The details of the hospital's $42 million renovation and expansion project, under review by the MVC as a Development of Regional Impact (DRI), have been presented in public forums Island-wide over the past year. Rather than replacing the entire hospital, sections of the existing hospital will be renovated for use as offices and support services. A new 90,240-square-foot addition will house inpatient rooms, surgical suites, imaging, outpatient services, and the emergency department.
Planning for the project took four years. A hospital building campaign raised more than $38 million in private donations. In addition to public forums, Mr. Sweet and Tim Walsh, the hospital's chief executive officer, met informally with the LUPC several times during the planning stages with a goal of streamlining the DRI process. However, over the course of the almost 15-hour DRI public hearing, hospital officials and the design and construction team were called upon to provide answers to an exhaustive list of questions raised by the commissioners and the public at each session.
Questions that illustrate the level of detail sought by the commissioners included: What type of lamps are used in the exterior light fixtures? How much fill is required and where will it come from? What is the ignition system on the generators and does it use primer oil and have an interrupter switch? What is the likely glare from the "highly reflective" roof? What is the sun shadow in the healing garden?
At the conclusion of Thursday's session, Ms. Brown justified the commissioners' detailed questioning to Mr. Sweet, telling him, "...we go back and forth from the ridiculous to the sublime, because we care so much and we have to sort it out, as you have had to over these four years."
Of all the issues addressed, an off-site employee parking lot generated the most discussion at the final hearing session and at this week's follow-up post-hearing review by the LUPC on Monday. Plans call for creating an employee parking lot, with a maximum of 107 spaces, across the street from the hospital, on land situated between Eastville and Temahigan Avenues, with access off Temahigan. Mr. Walsh and Mr. Sweet said the off-site lot represents a critical linchpin in the project. It will be built before hospital construction begins to replace parking that will be lost during the process.
Several commissioners continued to question the need for the lot. Mr. Walsh reminded them that in earlier discussions, they indicated they wanted additional landscaping buffer zones in the hospital parking lots. This resulted in a loss of parking spaces around the hospital, and necessitated building another parking lot, Mr. Walsh explained.
West Tisbury commissioner Jim Powell suggested constructing multilevel parking around the hospital instead of impacting the nearby neighborhoods with the remote lot.
Architect Marc Rowland, of the design firm Thomas, Miller and Partners, provided the cost comparisons: $100,000 (excluding landscaping) for 100 spaces in the off-site lot, $3 million for 100 spaces in a multilevel structure, and $5 million for 100 spaces underneath the new hospital building.
Some of the commissioners cited the parking lot issue as evidence that the hospital should relocate to a different, bigger site, despite repeated explanations by Mr. Sweet and Mr. Walsh over the course of the hearing that it would cost too much.
Tisbury commissioner Ned Orleans questioned why doctors' offices should remain at the hospital and suggested demolishing that wing and turning it into parking space. Mr. Walsh explained that only doctors may admit patients to the hospital, so they need to be working close by. Additionally, MediCare reimbursements are more advantageous to hospitals with doctors on-site, he said.
Pursuing the same argument, West Tisbury commissioner Andrew Woodruff suggested removing the emergency room wing to provide more parking. However, Mr. Rowland said that would eliminate the docking area for the mobile Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine.
Mr. Woodruff also suggested eliminating one of the two old hospital wings, but as Mr. Walsh pointed out, that would result in a loss of services on-site such as daycare programs, the Vineyard Nursing Association, and hospice care.
In response to several questions from the commissioners and the public, the hospital design team agreed to consider adding several energy conservation measures to boost their Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification level. Engineer Neil Lemieux of Columbia Coast agreed to run ideas proposed by Chris Fried, an avid Island energy conservationist, by his company's mechanical engineers. Mr. Rowland estimated adding those measures would cost about a half-million dollars.
After concluding remarks by Mr. Sweet, Ms. Brown continued the public hearing until 5 pm tonight to allow submission of additional written information or testimony. The hearing may be closed when the LUPC convenes at 5:30 pm, unless Ms. Brown determines that substantial new information has been submitted that requires a reopening of the hearing to accept additional oral testimony.
The MVC tentatively scheduled its deliberations and decision on the hospital project on Dec. 6 at 7:30 pm at the commission offices in Oak Bluffs.