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Hospital faces costly repairs

March 06, 2002|BY LAURA ERNDE

By LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Maryland officials may build a new Western Maryland Hospital Center in Hagerstown after calculating it would cost almost as much just to revamp the 45-year-old building's heating and air conditioning system.

The state had earmarked $7.8 million this year for a new heating and air conditioning system at the Pennsylvania Avenue hospital that works to rehabilitate and care for people with chronic illnesses.

But after cost estimates came in at more than double that - $16.5 million - hospital and state officials started taking a second look.

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Hospital Director and CEO Cindy Pellegrino also was worried that the noise and dust of the project would disrupt the 100 patients who by nature are medically fragile.

"At that point we had to stop and ask ourselves, does this make sense?" Pellegrino said.

A new building would cost between $22 million and $25 million, said Betsy Barnard, director of the office of planning and capital financing for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

State officials also may find a way to scale back the heating and air conditioning project so it's more affordable and less disruptive, Barnard said.

The state is looking at its options and hopes to come up with a proposal by this summer, Barnard said.

If a new hospital is built, it would be on the same 13-acre campus, she said. There is no plan yet on what to do with the old building.

A new heating and air conditioning system would be so expensive because it has to be specialized to minimize the spread of infections. Installation would involve moving other pipes and wiring in the ceiling to make room for duct work.

Meanwhile, the hospital will make do with its current system, which is functional but aging, Pellegrino said.

The hospital was threatened with closure about 10 years ago when the state was facing budget cuts.

Although the state is once again in a belt-tightening mode, there is no plan to close the hospital, Barnard said.

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