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Frozen ground broken for new Washington County hospital

Freezing rain forces officials to improvise ceremony inside

Freezing rain forces officials to improvise ceremony inside

February 14, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Freezing rain seemed like a small hurdle Wednesday for Washington County Health System officials, who were determined to hold the groundbreaking for their new hospital despite bad weather.

Instead of a traditional ceremony at the construction site, the Health System improvised a mock groundbreaking inside Robinwood Medical Center.

Officials held shovels while a video of a bulldozer digging at the site was broadcast behind them.

Health System President and CEO James Hamill said the inconvenience was relatively minor.

"We're having a problem with the rain. That's OK. It's not like we haven't had issues before with this thing," said Hamill, referring to nearly two years of legal challenges that delayed progress for the new hospital on Robinwood Drive.

About 200 people attended Wednesday's event, which kicked off construction of a new 496,000-square-foot hospital near Robinwood Medical Center.

The Washington County Regional Medical Center will replace the Health System's current hospital on East Antietam Street in Hagerstown.

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Hamill said the $275 million project is scheduled to be finished in late 2010.

The new hospital will have 297 single-bed rooms, 17 operating rooms, 53 emergency treatment rooms, two trauma rooms and two cardiac treatment rooms, according to a fact sheet provided by Health System officials.

The current hospital has 274 beds and no single rooms, Health System Spokeswoman Maureen Theriault said.

It has been five years since the Health System proposed plans for a new hospital.

Those plans were delayed when, in January 2006, a group of Robinwood-area residents appealed zoning variances for the project.

Hospital opponents argued that the area was inappropriate for the facility.

When the variances were upheld in circuit court, opponents challenged the ruling in the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

That challenge and a subsequent appeal were rejected.

Since the initial proposal in 2003, the estimated cost of the hospital project has risen $88 million.

Of the project's current $275 million cost, the hospital will pay about $20 million, Hamill said. The rest will be raised through bonds issued by the state, Hamill said.

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