GIBSON CITY — With the imminent $12.5 million expansion of its main facility looming, the Gibson Area Hospital Foundation is embarking on a $2 million fundraising campaign to raise some of the necessary funds.

Spurred on by a $50,000 donation by the Gibson Area Hospital Auxiliary and another $50,000 from the hospital’s chief executive officer, Rob Schmitt, and his wife, Linda, donors quickly pledged money for the project.

In total, $638,830 has been raised so far in pledged donations from hospital donors, a little more than a quarter of the fundraising goal.

Schmitt announced the auxiliary’s donation midway through a Saturday night gala, noting the auxiliary donated a bulk of fundraising dollars in the hospital’s Project 2000 and emergency room fundraising drives which expanded GAH’s facility west to Melvin Street.

“With this new campaign and (the annual) Love Lights a Tree (fundraiser), the auxiliary is leading by example and is giving to a great organization,” Schmitt said.

The $12.5 million project, the largest in the hospital’s history, involves the construction of a three-story medical office building on the site of its north-side parking lot. The building will be connected to the rest of the hospital and will be the site of family practice and primary care, internal medicine, orthopedics, general surgery, physical therapy services and drive-through retail pharmacy services. It will also serve as the new entrance to the Annex long-term care facility.

To replace the lost parking, GAH is demolishing nearby properties to replace with parking. Those three include the former Nolan Harms property at 511 E. 19th St. which formerly housed the hospital’s IT department; the former Howard Thompson house on West 18th Street; and an adjacent house to the east. The 18th Street houses have already been torn down.

“The No. 1 complaint I receive is not having enough parking,” Schmitt said. “I had a gentleman from Wisconsin who said he drove around the hospital three times trying to find a place to park.”

Schmitt said he has received several inquiries regarding water detention basins which will be placed underneath the new parking lots. Schmitt said the basins are standard in major commercial construction and will help reduce overload on Gibson City’s storm sewer system.

“At our current west-side parking lot, we have a detention pond which is usually empty, but if you were to drive by after it rains it will be filled with water,” Schmitt said. “That is a current detention pond, but instead with the new parking lot, it will be underground. These will be the first of their kind in Gibson City.”

Schmitt said Gibson City does not have a building code that specifies an underground basin, so GAH had to rely on the state’s code.

Earlier this month, city council members approved the hospital’s request to amend the code to go by a 50-year flood rule rather than the 100-year one due to space constraints.

Schmitt said some of the minor details of the building are still being worked out, since he called the complex “shoe-horned between two existing buildings.” Schmitt said the new structure will need to be compliant with fire codes and health, life and safety plans and have enough doors for people to escape from in case of an emergency.

One plan Schmitt said is not likely to happen is moving the hospital’s helipad onto the roof of the new medical office building. Schmitt said an existing antenna attached to the Annex provides wireless communication services to major parts of Gibson City and would need to be cut in half to accomodate a helipad.

In addition, the first plan of having the building on the west side did not come to be due to a pedestrian skyway costing $1.5 million.

The hospital foundation’s director, Curt Homann, told donors at the gala that the foundation would be matching donated funds, meaning that the $2 million fundraiser would turn into $4 million. Homann pointed out that 250 volunteers raised $300,000 in 1961 to fund the hospital’s operations, worth $2.5 million today.

“The medical office building is a great asset to our facility, but we need cash to get through the first few years before we make money off of it,” Homann explained.

One of the initial donations came from the family of longtime hospital supporters Ernie and Connie Brown. Their children donated $10,000 to fund the new project.

Schmitt said the goal of Gibson Area Hospital is to continue to expand its services to reach more area residents. With 32 clinics around Central Illinois, Schmitt said GAH will be able to serve residents in many ways.

“The old adage is that you have to expand to stay in business, and we’re seeing that now in healthcare service,” Schmitt explained. “We’re seeing hospitals close all over the country. ... It’s a hard thing to see.”