The Petersburg Medical Center is looking at the North Haugen and Excel Street sites for a new facility. That’s compared to potential new roads and housing lots in that area. (Image from the Petersburg Medical Center)

Local elected officials Tuesday discussed possible future locations for a new Petersburg Medical Center. The community-owned hospital this year will be investigating two parcels of borough owned land to replace an aging downtown facility.

Millions of dollars in federal funding have bolstered the project, which has been in the discussion and planning stages for years. The medical center board and borough assembly held an annual work session and construction of a new building was the main topic.

PMC CEO Phil Hofstetter wants to keep the process moving along for selection of a site.

“You know the first thing is obviously, can we build in these locations and that’s the purpose of the last motion that the assembly approved and thank you for doing that,” Hofstetter told the assembly. “That really kind of takes the allowance of getting those permits and getting the firm down here to be able to just dig and just do those test sites for the locations to make sure that there’s nothing of consequence there that prohibits any build there.”

The hospital is contracting with a company to consider site conditions at two parcels of borough property.  One is on Haugen Drive behind the Petersburg Indian Association’s building and the other is between the borough’s Mountain View Manor elderly housing assisted living facility and the ballfields.

Assembly member Jeff Meucci pointed out that the assembly this month voted to spend money to look into developing some of that land to be sold for new homes.

“It seems like the borough could be wasting $7,000 if we’re doing engineering work and all of a sudden the hospital decides they want to put a spot up at North Haugen and/or Excel Street,” Meucci said. “It kind of shoots the borough in the foot when we’re trying to increase housing in Petersburg.”

That was the intent for a vote to spend $7,200 for engineering work on the possibilities for expanding the airport subdivision near the Hammer and Wikan shopping center as well as extending Fram Street in that direction. However, the assembly at the same meeting gave the go ahead for the medical center to start looking into parcels in that same area for a new building.

Others at the work session thought there could be room both uses.

“We can give this information to the engineering firm and send them to the other end of the subdivision,” said assembly member Chelsea Tremblay. “You know this is a yes/and situation. More utilities the better, more studies the better,” she added.

New home parcels and a new hospital could both require extension of water and sewer lines and roads.

The medical center has dropped a third site from its investigation because of the high additional cost of looking into it. That’s a parcel on Eighth Street across from the Lighthouse Assembly of God Church. PMC CEO Hofstetter said it could be good to have the building near the manor.

“You know having a facility adjacent to senior living and assisted living and then hospital and long-term care, that actually makes a lot of sense from a continuity of care standpoint,” Hofstetter said.

The borough is also starting to talk with the medical center about it taking over management of the borough’s assisted living facility at the manor.

The medical center has roughed out a budget that puts the cost of construction around 74 million dollars and the total price tag around $84 million. The higher number includes costs like design work for the new facility and demolition of the old building. But Hofstetter told the gathering he wants to refine the assumptions about what a new building would look like and come up with a better budget.

“We want to look at things like is it a two-story building versus a one-story building? Is it really 85,000 square feet or can we condense it to 70,000 square feet? Can we look at the existing footprint and can we actually look at innovation to expand areas that don’t necessarily add to the cost of the building but we can utilize outdoor space? Things like that where we’re taking an architectural firm and really doing a deep dive into the architectural design, the space programming and coming out with a product that we can live with and that we can actually move forward with,” he said.

He’d also like to come up with a funding plan for how to raise the rest of the money. PMC has eight million dollars in federal funding for design and site work and is poised to apply for another $20 million that’s in the budget passed by the state legislature this year.

PMC looked at five sites initially in a master plan. And PMC board president Jerod Cook reminded those gathered that the borough parcels were suggested by borough officials for their road access and proximity to utilities.

“So that’s what we’re working with is sites that were given to us by the borough,” Cook said. “I believe the sizes and the shapes are not set in stone. I believe that’s something that may change with time as we get them surveyed and checked out and stuff. So, I wouldn’t get too caught up in the size, the shapes and stuff on these particular sites until we see what we actually have and what our needs are.”

Cook said the hope was to locate a facility far enough away from existing homes to alleviate the concerns of neighbors. Some residents have expressed that concern, or raised the concern about losing established trails in the area. Still others want more of a discussion about the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium’s role in the community’s health care. And PMC officials say they’d like to include the regional provider in a new facility but PMC is the one pursuing it.

PMC board member Cindi Lagoudakis said that was a message from a meeting with SEARHC officials earlier this year.

“What they did discuss was coming in and rescuing organizations that were faltering,” Lagoudakis said. “We are not at that place. We are operating in the black and we are a capable organization. There are collaborative opportunities but at this point in time, there is no SEARHC hospital.”

Hofstetter also presented a draft community needs assessment that PMC completed this year. It looks at areas that have declined during the pandemic like long-term care residents and therapy patients, as well as others that have expanded during the past two years like home health. That could be used to inform the design of any new building.

PMC hopes to have information back on the two sites this year and plans to seek an architecture company for design work.