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Hospital, city, county officials say case delaying construction

January 12, 2007|by TARA REILLY

HAGERSTOWN - Washington County Health System officials, a County Commissioner and the Hagerstown mayor on Thursday asked five residents to drop an appeal that is tying up plans to build a $255 million hospital off Robinwood Drive.

The officials claimed project costs could significantly increase the longer the case is in court.

James P. Hamill, health system president and chief executive officer, said all the local and state approvals needed for the project have been received and that the health system was ready to begin construction.

The court case could delay the project by as long as 18 months, he said. Depending on interest rates and other factors, the cost could increase by $150 million over that time, officials said.

"That's not acceptable to us," Hamill said. "We're at a point now where we as a community have to decide when to go forward."

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He hoped there was an amicable resolution to the situation, Hamill said.

Health system and local government officials made their case for the replacement hospital at a press conference Thursday at Washington County Hospital's Pangborn Hall.

If the appeal isn't dropped, the health system will pursue talks with Washington County to strengthen zoning regulations on where hospitals may be located. Doing so could weaken the appellants' case that challenges recent zoning approvals, Hamill claims. Discussions with the county began this week, he said.

Residents Gordon A. Bartels, Janet E. Bartels, Sally R. Hatch, Robert C. Hatch and Charles B. Hongell have challenged approved zoning variances that allow the health system to move Washington County Hospital from East Antietam Street in Hagerstown to Robinwood Drive, just outside the city's limits.

The appellants could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Washington County Commissioner James F. Kercheval, County Public Works Director Gary Rohrer and Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said they supported a new hospital.

"It's time for us to move forward," Bruchey said.

The city and county have worked to free up water and sewer capacity for the site, Bruchey said.

Ray Grahe, the health system's chief financial officer, said a water tower is planned for the east side of Hagerstown to accommodate the new hospital.

Major improvements to the busy intersections of Mount Aetna Road and U.S. 40, and Robinwood Drive and U.S. 40 are planned to begin soon, which would help traffic issues in the area, Rohrer said.

Bruchey countered hospital critics who argue that the planned road improvements would be a minor fix.

"It's better to have a Band-Aid on a gushing wound than to have nothing on it," Bruchey said.

Health system officials said the replacement hospital is designed to improve patient care and boost hospital security.

"This is about your health, and the time is now for the project," Grahe said.

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