By ROSS BROWN
GIBSON CITY — In two years, Gibson Area Hospital should look much different.
After buying four properties adjacent to the hospital’s campus in the past decade and using those properties for various hospital functions, GAH is about to embark on a $12 million project that will add a 55,000-square-foot, three-story medical office building on the hospital’s north side as well as additional parking spaces on three sides of the hospital, which will address "probably our No. 1 complaint," according to Chief Executive Officer Rob Schmitt.
Schmitt told the Gibson City Council on Monday night that by 2023, all of the hospital’s physicians will have their offices located inside the medical office building, which will tower over the rest of the hospital along 19th Street in the area currently used as a parking lot for employees and visitors of the hospital’s Annex long-term care facility.
Construction is scheduled to start in August, Schmitt said.
To make up for the lost parking space, GAH plans to demolish buildings on four residential properties by July 1 — the former Howard and Helen Thompson residence on 18th Street and an adjacent white house, a brick house on the east side of Melvin Street next to the hospital’s existing employee parking lot, and the former Nolan and Charlotte Harms residence on 19th Street east of the Annex.
The hospital has owned the Harms property since 2009 and houses its IT department there, while it purchased the other properties within the past year.
In the end, GAH will have 173 parking spaces, Schmitt said, with that number decreasing to 128 once the office building is completed.
The medical office building will house office space for doctors who currently have offices in the hospital’s Doctors Park office complex across 19th Street to the north of GAH’s main building. Among those slated to make the move are Mark Spangler and Greg Delost, Kate Austman and Darrin and Bernadette Ray as well as orthopedics, surgeons and therapy services.
Eventually, Schmitt said, plans are to relocate some of GAH’s programs to make for more space.
"We’ll actually move (those departments) out of the hospital and into those outbuildings," Schmitt said. "Eventually that will lead us with space inside the hospital that we can expand or grow into without having to build."
Moving certain programs into Doctors Park will free up GAH’s main building for other uses. Last fall, GAH began offering low-cost dental care services. The dental unit is located in the former OB department, which moved to the vacant top floor of the emergency department addition in 2014. Schmitt also said GAH uses the old OB unit for "pre-op" care. By 2023, that entire wing would be unused, making it usable for anything GAH decides.
The medical office building was originally slated to include four stories and be located on the Thompson property, connected to the hospital by a walkway. That plan has been changed, Schmitt said, though the building will contain many new amenities not currently offered by GAH.
Two circle drives will connect 19th Street to the building — one on the north side of the building and one on the east.
The north driveway will link to a pharmacy pick-up window, while the drive at the northeast corner will be the main entryway for Annex residents and its visitors as well as visitors to the office building. To reach the Annex, visitors will need to walk down a long hallway to the left of the entrance to reach the Annex entrance down the hall to the south.
The hospital’s helicopter pad will be placed on top of the new medical building, making the transportation process much smoother. Currently, the heliport is located on the north edge of Doctors Park, meaning the facilities are not connected.
Annex parking will be located on the north and east sides where the old Harms property is. Design renderings provided by the Champaign-based Farnsworth Group engineering firm show future expansion of the Annex facility to the east along with a possible new street connection to Hager Drive.
Schmitt said that in the future, GAH may need to do away with the lookout area on the Annex’s south side, instead using that area for a loading dock.
"There’s no immediate need for that space, but we do need a new loading dock at some point," Schmitt said.
City Superintendent Randy Stauffer said a new storm sewer could be needed along Hager Drive south of the hospital.
Stauffer added that the new facility would need strong water pressure, not just quantity.
"They will be putting a new system inside it, pretty similar to what the hospital has now," Stauffer said. "They can pump their pressure up. They could get a pressure tank inside the building so they could have something to hold a little more pressure."
Schmitt said the hospital is excited about its continued growth and expansion, adding that the new building would expand services offered.
The expansion project adds to the growing GAH complex, which fewer than 20 years ago was about half its current size.
Previous expansion projects included "Project 2000," a $7.2 million venture that added a new waiting room, outpatient space and surgery and radiology areas in a two-story addition to the hospital’s west side. GAH then expanded westward all the way to Melvin Street in 2006 with its new emergency room — another $7 million project.
"(This) will be the biggest construction project in the history of the hospital, for sure," Schmitt said.