Hospital construction off to quick start
These days, hard hats are nearly as common as surgical caps on the grounds of Martha's Vineyard Hospital, and bulldozers are nearly as plentiful as ambulances.
After five years of fund raising, and another bruising year navigating the permitting process, work on the new $42 million hospital project is well underway.
"It's much more fun building it than it is trying to get permits for it, and raise money for it," said Tim Walsh, hospital CEO. "Much, much more fun."
Brief road closures and vibrations from heavy equipment have been a fact of life around the hospital since construction began. Photo by Steve Myrick
The work began with the decommissioning of the hospital's private wastewater treatment plant. A new sewer line was built, to tie into the Oak Bluffs wastewater treatment system, and the hospital's old plant was torn down.
Work continues to remove soil from the hospital's old leach fields, which were located near Lagoon Pond. A road and a parking lot will eventually be built where the treatment plant was. "That's a win for all of us, really," said Mr. Walsh.
A new road and bike path were constructed off Beach Road. Now the road is used for access to hospital parking, but eventually it will become the main emergency entrance for the hospital. The completed project will feature access roads ringing the hospital.
The massive construction project sparked concern among nearby residents, and others, during the long siting and permitting process.
Construction workers finish decommissioning the hospital wastewater treatment plant, part of the $42 million renovation and expansion project.
Oak Bluffs selectman Ron DiOrio helped form a committee with representatives from the construction company, elected officials, the hospital, and property owners who meet monthly to help mitigate construction issues. "I think that Columbia Construction has done an outstanding job of addressing the concerns of the neighbors," he said.
Mr. DiOrio said that some property owners who opposed the hospital expansion remain unhappy about the project, but he said the committee is keeping complaints to a minimum. "It's the first time there's been a committee," said Mr. DiOrio, "to discuss issues before they become problems. We have to keep working with the realities, stay focused on what can be done, and what can't be done."
Patrick King, a year-round resident of Windemere Road, says the construction has had a major impact in his neighborhood. "Have you heard the trucks back up with the 'beep beep beep'?" said Mr. Patrick. "Try that from like seven am all day long."
Mr. Patrick says he fears catastrophic water damage could result from a large storm. "It's not when, it's if. It's only a matter of time before the water is going to come rushing down out of this mountain we've built. All the experts that have been behind lobbying for this construction, will not be here when the 'Katrina' hits."
Mr. Patrick, who rents his property in the summer, indicated he did not lose income during the summer season, but did receive complaints from tenants, and fears the loss of future income. "I think I'm going to lose people that rented this summer. No one knew what it was going to be like when they made their rental commitments," he said.
The ground vibrations from earth moving and heavy equipment have also been a source of complaints. The construction company brought portable seismographs to the site to measure ground vibrations, and took pictures of surrounding building foundations to quantify any damage caused.
"I think it's gone better than people had anticipated," said Mr. Walsh, who says he has sometimes experienced ground shaking from his hospital office. "I could feel it. It wasn't an earthquake or anything, but I could feel it."
The next large phase of the hospital project will be preparing the ground between Beach Road and the current hospital buildings for the foundation of the new structure. That should begin in November, and continue for several months. If all goes well, the foundation and steel structure will start to rise in the spring.
"We'll be closing the parking lots out front, and using the parking lots out back," said Mr. Walsh. "We're creating some temporary lots right now. That's probably going to be the most difficult thing for us. We're really refocusing how you get into the hospital. Hopefully the signage will help, but it's going to be new. It will be a new entrance, and new way to get into the hospital, a new place to park and a new place to walk in. Once that happens, I think we'll settle in, and we'll build the building. We won't be changing too many other things after that."
Parking was a significant issue during the permitting process, and plans remain incomplete. The current plan would add about 20 parking spaces to the total before construction began. Hospital officials say there was a shortage of parking before, and even more spaces will be needed for the expansion. The hospital is exploring additional options and must return to the Martha's Vineyard Commission for approval before the project is completed.
During construction, the hospital has established a temporary shuttle service for employees. Each day hospital employees park at the Portuguese American Club on Vineyard Avenue, about six-tenths of a mile from the hospital entrance on Eastville Avenue. A Martha's Vineyard Transportation Authority shuttle, coordinated with hospital shift changes, carries hospital employees to their jobs.
"We were doing a voluntary thing for a while," said Mr. Walsh. "When we took the rest of the parking up here, we had to make it mandatory. We have 70 to 80 cars up there every day. It's working out real well, it was real smooth."
If the construction project remains on schedule, and all remaining permits are granted, Mr. Walsh projects a ribbon cutting ceremony sometime late in 2009.