Martha's Vineyard Hospital leaders told the Oak Bluffs selectmen Tuesday they are confident in their fund-raising abilities and plan to begin the permitting process for the $42 million hospital building project soon.
"We feel we're ready to go next summer or the fall of next year," hospital chief executive officer Tim Walsh told selectmen at their regular meeting Tuesday. "I think we're at a stage now to go to the appropriate agencies. We feel we're really close and this is a doable project."
Hospital leaders also said they are comfortable with the decision to keep the hospital in its current location on Linton Lane in the Eastville section of Oak Bluffs. The principal reason, they said, is economics.
"There's been a lot of discussion around town about moving to a green site," Mr. Walsh said. "That's a $71 million price tag without the price of land," he added.
The presentation by Mr. Walsh and Tim Sweet, vice chairman of the hospital board of trustees, came at the request of selectmen, following their briefing two weeks ago by John Breckenridge, the town's appointed member of the Martha's Vineyard Commission.
Questions about the siting for the new hospital were raised last month at an informal meeting with the Martha's Vineyard Commission and the hospital architect. At that session commission members urged hospital spokesmen to explore relocating the campus. Commission members raised similar concerns at a meeting last October.
The commission meeting was not attended by Mr. Walsh or any hospital trustees.
This week Mr. Walsh said when hospital officials discussed moving the entire hospital and Windemere Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center to a new site they found it was not financially feasible.
The current price tag for the new hospital is $42 million; Mr. Walsh said the hospital has more than $25 million in pledges to date. The new building plan calls for demolishing part of the 1929 cottage hospital and rebuilding a state-of-the-art medical facility that will include a new emergency room, two operating rooms and dedicated spaces for radiology, laboratory, surgery, obstetrics, acute care and intensive care.
The new hospital will include 19 patient rooms, all of them private, and the 1972 hospital wing will be renovated for use as medical office space. Construction is planned so that all medical services will continue at the hospital without interruption.
Mr. Sweet said that while many people have suggested moving the hospital to another location, it has not been possible to find a suitable piece of land. He said the hospital would need at least 20 acres, and a place where the neighbors would not mind helicopters, ambulances and increased traffic.
"If you can find something, we're willing to listen," Mr. Sweet said. "There's not an appropriate location or a neighborhood that wants us. We just couldn't find the right land."
He said the hospital has been traveling down two roads since the project was conceived - one for permitting and another for fund-raising. He said for a time hospital officials stalled the permitting process until they felt confident in their ability to raise the money - by far a record sum in the history of capital campaigns on the Vineyard.
"In the permitting process some things may come up that we haven't heard before," Mr. Sweet said. "We wanted to go ahead and try and address the hospital moving issue. But we really have to close the door on that and move forward."
Selectmen had several questions for Mr. Walsh and Mr. Sweet, but in general praised them for their hard work. Selectman Michael Dutton removed himself from the discussion, because he has done some work for the hospital on legal matters. Selectman Kerry Scott, who attended the commission meeting last month, warned hospital leaders she believes the idea of moving to a new site will come up again.
"I think for the kinds of money we are spending it would be very short-sighted to not take another look at a new spot," Ms. Scott said. "For the right building in another spot."
Mr. Sweet replied that he is comfortable with the decisions that have been made. "I don't think we're compromising long-term," he said. "I just want to see a new hospital being built. That amount of money [$71 million to move to another location] puts our hopes and dreams of a new hospital out of reach."
Selectman Roger Wey questioned why the concerns were just coming up now, after years of public meetings hosted by hospital leaders about their plans.
"There were many, many public hearings on the hospital and now we come to the permitting process and people are raising concerns," he said. "We need to go forward. We've got to start to build. We have to start at some point. I hope you go forward because we need it."
In the end selectman and board chairman Greg Coogan thanked Mr. Sweet and Mr. Walsh for all the time and work they have put into the project and said he hopes the campaign is successful. Mr. Coogan offered his own wry summary of the situation.
"The gist is you need 20 acres, with no neighbors, that is centrally located and an extra $25 million," he said. "I commend you for the amount of work you're doing."