There were accolades all around Thursday morning as the Tehachapi Valley Healthcare District held a groundbreaking ceremony for a new hospital, culminating years of effort and a commitment by district voters to encumber property owners with $65 million in bonds.
Holding a sign that said "I've waited 45 years for this," hospital employee Estella Martinez showed her obvious pleasure in the milestone.
She has worked at the hospital for 45 years and like many of the speakers said it was long past time for Tehachapi to get a new hospital.
"We've outgrown out facility our community's grown and we need to expand our hospital as well. We're been patiently waiting," Martinez said.
Marge Wyatt, vice president of the Guild of Tehachapi Hospital, presented a check to Beth Ann Bowman, Guild president, saying, "Several years ago I promised $1000 the day we broke ground, here it is." She challenged others to donate, too.
Master of Ceremonies Alan Burgess, CEO of the district, provided a history of the hospital and each of the five current board members spoke, noting the accomplishment was the result of years of work by many -- and the support of the public.
Board President Dr. Sam Conklin recalled that when he first began practicing medicine in Tehachapi in 1969 he thought a new hospital was needed and his fellow board members -- Dr. Gary Olsen and Dr. Kim Horowitz -- echoed his sentiments from their own experience. The two newest board members -- Duane Moats and Henry Schaeffer -- also spoke, making note of young members of their own families who will have the advantage of the new hospital well into the future.
Other speakers included Tehachapi Mayor Phil Smith, who remarked that his wife Becky was born at the original Tehachapi Hospital, before the earthquake, and that it would be a good thing in the future for residents to be able to have their children in town.
"Congratulations to the Healthcare District. This was a long and arduous journey to get to this point," Smith said. "It's another milestone for Tehachapi. We're getting a full service hospital again where families will not have to go out of town. This marks the area of a new beginning for Tehachapi."
Smith pledged the city's help and cooperation with the building project.
Second District Kern County Supervisor Zack Scrivner also congratulated the district on the accomplishment, noting that with two young sons he imagines he and his wife Christina will make many trips to the new hospital's emergency room. He presented a proclamation on behalf of the Board of Supervisors, congratulating the district.
Board members then took shovels in hand and formally broke ground for the project, after which hospital employees and other community members were invited to take a turn with the shovels themselves, which many did.
More than 400 people gathered for the event on the site of the new hospital in the Capital Hills area north of Highway 58 near the Mill Street exit, just north of the post office.
The Tehachapi Warrior Band played and a helicopter from Mercy Air provided an overflight to celebrate the occasion.
Among those gathered was Dal Bunn, manager of the Loop Ranch adjacent to the site. The ranch is owned by the Broome family, who donated the land for the hospital.
"This is a wonderful day for the Broome family also," he said. "We're pretty proud. It's a good thing for the community and it's been needed for long time.
Ida Perkins, president of the Greater Tehachapi Chamber of Commerce, was among those present, along with chamber board chair Claudia Henson. Both expressed excitement about the new hospital construction, as did Nikki Cummings, president of the Tehachapi Economic Development Council.
"We're just thrilled," Cummings said. "I know that the community is fully in support of this and we're fully in support of it. We're just thankful that this is happening. We're proud of Alan and the whole board and all they've accomplished to take our community to the next level."
"I think its a stellar day for our community," said Tehachapi Unified Superintendent of Schools Lisa Gilbert, "We've always appreciated the partnership that the hospital has had with our local school district, allowing our students to actually go and learn about all of the health careers. I think this will extend those opportunities."
"I'm very proud of the past and current Board of Directors and the leadership of the management of the Tehachapi Valley Hospital District for this day and for the future of our local medical community," said Tehachapi City Manager Greg Garrett. "This is an amazing start to something that's going to be great for our community in many, many ways."
CLICK HERE to read the special 8-page section produced by the Tehachapi News to commemorate the new hospital groundbreaking.