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PMC facility "limping along"; renovate or rebuild


Petersburg Medical Center staff and board members are trying to decide whether or not to extensively renovate the facility or build a new hospital after an architectural firm presented a draft assessment showing that much of PMC’s architecture and mechanical and electrical equipment are well beyond their lifespan.

Representatives from Jensen Yorba Lott Architects presented the draft plan to the PMC Board two weeks ago after it hired the firm to complete the condition assessment last July.

“We’re looking at a subtotal of about $16 million to bring the facility to current standards and correct non-compliant items and things that have aged out,” said architect Joann Lott.

Those “items and things” include but are not limited to several mechanical and electrical systems in the Long-Term Care (LTC) center including the elevator (roughly 25 years past its expected life), plumbing, ventilation and exhaust components along with lights and control circuits. The LTC was built in the early 1960s and many of the systems in the building haven’t been replaced.

“Things are well maintained but they only have a certain amount of life in them,” Lott said.

According to the firm, one of the most critical needs is for PMC to replace its outdated electrical distribution equipment.

Begenyi Engineering’s electrical engineer Barry Begenyi said there are significant code issues where the branches of the electrical system aren’t broken out.

“The distribution equipment and lighting systems for the long term care wing are woefully inadequate,” Begenyi said. “The panel boards in that section are from the 60s. There’s no space left in them. The lighting systems are very antiquated and the controls are very antiquated. It’s limping along.”

In most hospitals there are three branches that go through separate transfer switches in order to protect the integrity of electrical circuits in case of failure. If the utility goes out, you transfer over to a generator and critical electric loads are still supplied to the hospital.

“In this facility (PMC) those are all lumped together so they’re in the same distribution,” Begenyi said. “It starts right at the front end of the system…there are single points of failure the whole way down through the system.”

PMC is not currently in violation of building codes because it is grandfathered in—meaning it doesn’t have to comply with updated building codes unless they begin to repair or rebuild a certain system. The State of Alaska adopts guidelines for hospital construction, Lott said.

“Looking at your facility you currently have spaces that do not meet the current guidelines for health care,” Lott said. “An existing facility you’re allowed to be grandfathered in. But just as far as being state of the art, having space for equipment, space for maneuvering, you’re below the bar for meeting the current standards.”

Petersburg Borough Manager Steve Giesbrecht along with assembly members Bob Lynn, Cindi Lagoudakis and Nancy Strand attended the board meeting. Lynn asked the architect about how to prioritize renovation needs.

“That’s a tough question because there’s a lot of different directions you can go with this information,” Lott said. “I think, basically, this information is saying you’re at a state where you need to either do major renovation or build yourself a new hospital.”

Building a new hospital seemed to be the way many of the board members were leaning, but how to fund such an enterprise estimated to cost around $33 million at the low end baffled most of the audience.

Aside from state or federal grants, a bond would be another option for partially funding renovation or a new facility, but it’s an option Giesbrecht doesn’t think Petersburg voters would

go for.

“We went into the remodel project at the police station with the belief that there was no way we would get folks to vote for a bond even just to finish up the financing,” Giesbrecht said. “Again you guys know your neighbors and spouses better than I do but the impression we get is that Petersburg doesn’t want to see us spending more money. A bond issue is definitely more money, it goes right on somebody’s property taxes.”

PMC board member Darlene Whitethorn was surprised to hear that even if the board could come up with partial funding, that voters might not choose to support the hospital.

“Maybe the citizens of this community aren’t really aware of how important a hospital is in Petersburg,” Whitethorn said.

PMC CFO Doran Hammett said it doesn’t matter whether the board wants to renovate or build a new facility; it’s going to cost money the hospital doesn’t have.

“The need for some external form of financing doesn’t apply just to building a new facility,” Hammett said. “If you decide that you want to do renovations…it’s still going to require money from an external source because the hospital does not have those funds. It’s not like you can choose one and not have to go to bonding or the public or grants or something for those funds.”

PMC CEO Liz Woodyard said either way the board needs to look towards the future and prioritize the needs of the community.

“A good next step is (to come up with) a master facility plan, whether or not the long-term plan is to renovate this building or build a new building,” Woodyard said. “We have to determine what the needs of the community are, what services we’re going to continue to offer and make sure we have a footprint that meets those needs.”

The PMC Board has recognized the need for some time for funding assistance, especially for capital projects like facility improvements and repairs and requested formal assistance from the Petersburg Borough in June of 2014—a request the borough assembly denied at the time largely due to the ambiguous relationship between the borough and PMC.

Currently the Borough Assembly has no oversight over PMC Board decisions, and the majority of assembly members didn’t feel comfortable giving money to PMC without having a say in how the board spends borough money.

If the PMC Board plans to ask the assembly to approve a bond measure, Borough Assembly member Cindi Lagoudakis encouraged it to communicate with the public in an effort to build “community support and understanding.”

“Even for residents who don’t use the facility on a frequent basis or at all, it provides them a measure of insurance if they knew they might have an emergency that it is a facility they could take advantage of and it is a quality of life issue for Petersburg so I would sell those points,” Lagoudakis said.


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