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For the week of May 3 through May 9, 2000

P&Z green-lights reduced St. Luke’s roadwork

‘Financially necessary’ office building, daycare center, in the works


By TRAVIS PURSER
Express Staff Writer

St. Luke’s hospital cleared a major hurtle toward opening its doors this winter by gaining approval from the county planning and zoning commission to operate with an adjacent three-lane highway, rather than a previously agreed upon five-lane road.

County P&Z made that decision Thursday during an unusually packed, 4 1/2 hour meeting at the old Blaine County courthouse in Hailey.

The highway change comes in the form of a proposed amendment to St. Luke’s original 1998 county permit to build and operate a hospital in the McHanville area south of Ketchum. The amendment must now go before county commissioners for final approval.

During Thursday’s meeting, P&Z also considered an application by St. Luke’s to build and operate a 40,000-square-foot medical office building next to its nearly completed hospital.

Further consideration of the office building proposal was postponed to May 18 at 6:30 p.m.

A third St. Luke’s building—a day-care facility for hospital employees—is currently in the nascent stages of planning, hospital officials disclosed.

Concerning the highway agreement, one major kink remains to be resolved. That is the degree of responsibility St. Luke’s has toward an eventual five-lane expansion, if and when the Idaho Transportation Department decides to expand the road to five lanes throughout the county.

Despite St. Luke’s 1998 agreement with the county to pay for five lanes, the hospital’s lawyer, Joanne Butler, says St. Luke’s "fair share" of the highway work is the cost of expanding to three lanes, not five.

P&Z commissioners and members of the public, however, said they want some assurance from St. Luke’s that the county will not have to eventually pay for highway improvements made necessary by the hospital.

St. Luke’s and the county are expected to reach a final agreement on that issue in the coming weeks.

If all goes as currently planned by St. Luke’s, the new hospital will open in December with a 2,000-foot stretch of three-lane highway running north and south of the intersection at Highway 75 and Broadway Run.

St. Luke’s drawings show at the intersection a four-way, fully actuated signal that automatically adjusts its timing with fluctuations in traffic levels.

The hospital plans to build a 600-foot acceleration lane to the south and a 250-foot left-hand turning lane from the south, because, according to St. Luke’s architectural planner Jeff Hull, 75 to 80 percent of hospital employees will come from the south.

Planners say they will illuminate the intersection with quadruple 400-watt, high-pressure, sodium bulbs mounted on 25-foot-high standards.

St. Luke’s officials declined to say whether the lighting was consistent with lighting at other rural intersections.

Ketchum P&Z staff member Torry Canfield said the maximum wattage of bulbs along Highway 75 is usually 250 watts. However, St. Luke’s architectural planner Hull said the hospital could not decrease its proposed wattage because hospital engineers had "liability issues."

St. Luke’s officials said their reduced highway commitment is the result of a Catch-22. Because plans for a county-wide five-lane expansion have been shelved, ITD does not have the authority to approve the purchase of needed land for the expansion, St. Luke’s said.

Sheriff’s deputy Gene Ramsey, though clearly in favor of five lanes, perhaps summed up the feelings of most in attendance Thursday when he said, "This is probably as good as it’s going to get."

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Just after P&Z approved the highway amendment, St. Luke’s CEO Jon Moses made an impassioned argument for the financial value of St. Luke’s proposed medical office building.

"This facility is far beyond a want; it’s a need," he said. "As a not-for-profit hospital, this hospital needs to be operated on a financially sound basis."

Without the medical office building, the hospital will be financially unsound, Moses said. A financially unsound hospital, he said, is forced to cut corners, forgo providing new services and offer a reduced level of care.

After a similar presentation by St. Luke’s vice president Gary Fletcher that also emphasized the financial need for the office building, P&Z chairman Tom Bowman said the commission would have to disregard their comments.

"When you say the medical office building is financially tied to the project, that may be true," Bowman said, "but state code does not allow us to make a determination based on that."

Commissioners agreed, however, the office building is integral to the functioning of the hospital as long as St. Luke’s owns and operates the building. That determination was the first of many standards P&Z must consider before approving or denying the application.

Discussion of remaining factors was delayed until the May 18 meeting.

 

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