“This has been a week of non-stop action,” said Alan Burgess, C.E.O. of the Tehachapi Valley Healthcare District, as he considered the week following a court decision in favor of the district.
On Sept. 21 in Kern County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Twisselman denied the petition for a Writ of Mandate against the hospital brought by a group called Tehachapi Critical Landuse Issues Group last December. The lawsuit challenged the district’s environmental review, just before a groundbreaking ceremony was planned. Since then, the long-awaited construction project has been on hold pending the court decision.
“I've never been happier with a court decision,” Burgess said. “The judge really put a lot of time and effort in to it. He was just eloquent and he backed everything up with case law. It was very logical, rational and thought through. It has really rallied the community behind the hospital in a way nothing else could have. All people want to know is when we're going to build the hospital — we need a hospital; when are we going to have it, when are you going to break ground? Thats the number one question I get. The community needs it.”
Although the litigation stalled the project, Burgess said there has been some progress this year.
“We haven't let the grass grow while this has been going,” he said. “We've done an awful lot in the last year. Cassette radiography, in the radiology department brings that up to standard and did the same thing with the hospital information system electronic health records that’s all going to go with us (when the new hospital is built).
“We did a lot of work on this building (current hospital) to bring it up to code as much as we can so that when we move into the new hospital that it will be an easier job to just do a few things in here to change the flow so that we can actually begin to re-outfit this for out-patient care,” he added.
“First thing that we're going to be doing, and have been preparing for, is to start preparing bids,” Burgess said. “We’re having a meeting with Bernard Columbo for a pre-construction meeting to talk about all the steps we have to go through.”
In addition to meeting legal requirements, the bids will be approved by the Board of Directors; once bids are accepted construction can be expected to proceed within 30 to 60 days, he said.
“Once we get going and start some of the contracts we're going to have to look at the costs,” Burgess noted. “Right now people talk about us being over budget; that’s really a terrible misnomer — there is no budget until you actually have hard numbers. It’s an estimated budget and you will not get hard numbers until you go to bid. When we go to bid then we'll start getting hard numbers for construction and I have no question we can build the facility for the $65 million in bonds that we issue.”
The bonds were previously approved by district voters — $15 million in March 2004 and an additional $50 million in November 2009.
However, he admits that total costs may hit $80 million, leaving the district to look for another $15 million in funding.
“There are federal loans and other possible lending projects,” he said. “There are also big grantors like the Bill Gates Foundation that are looking for specific projects that could possible come in and maybe build our women’s center. That might be five million of that money. We do have some parts of the project that we put on hold as temporary, one of them is the water features, for like $50,000 worth of materials, we would name it the Rotary, Lions Club or the Kiwanis room or what ever. The same holds true for the $100,000 healing garden.
“I promised the voters I wasn't going to go back for an additional bond and I still intend to try and keep that, but at the time I made that promise I had no idea we were going to be delayed a year by a frivolous lawsuit,” Burgess said. “If that’s going to add to the cost then where are you going to get that money?”
He attributed the anticipated increase in expense to the delay, including a bump in the price of steel and concrete. And there’s a chance that further litigation may cause more delay.
“TCLIG has 60 days to appeal the court’s decision,” Burgess said. “I think it will take us at least 60 days to get to that point (approving bids) so we're going to proceed as if there’s no appeal and issue everything.”
He noted that any contracts will include a clause addressing the possibility of an appeal that would make them null and void.
“At the same time that is going forward,” he said, “we now, with final approval from the judge on the CEQA stuff, can file our CEQA decision with OSHPOD (the state agency that regulates hospital construction). This will give us an OSHPOD final plan check. Once they sign off they will issue us an OSHPOD building permit That’s one half of a building permit basically, the other half has to come from the city. I'm meeting with the city to get a final plan check with them. Once they issue their permit I will have both permits and have a bidder we're ready to go. We can actually break ground and start work.
Burgess is also looking forward to the time the new hospital will be built.
“In the new hospital, one of the battles I'm going to have is I've got to find and hire or contract with a surgeon, anesthetist and with an obstetrician to provide the basic services I need in the new hospital. Right now there’s none of those in this community.
“Once we get started on construction I'm going to hire a project manager that will do most of the day to day management of the hospital, but the other big job I'm going to have is recruiting doctors, getting them in and getting them credentialed through the board, helping them get established, and build a practice for them before they move into the hospital.”