Thursday, January 8, 2004

New hospital's scope still unclear

Middletown plans to close on land purchase Friday

By John Kiesewetter and Erica Solvig
The Cincinnati Enquirer

MIDDLETOWN - Even as the city prepares to purchase land Friday for the relocation of Middletown Regional Hospital, officials at the hospital still refuse to publicly reveal their plans for the site east of the Interstate 75/Ohio 122 interchange.

"There are a lot of things we have to work out with our stakeholders," said Larry James, hospital vice president and chief marketing officer.

"That's why the hospital is being mum on a lot of things, and we know that hasn't sat well with people," James said.

On Friday, the city will close on a parcel paid for with $5.6 million in municipal bonds authorized by council in November. The land is at the northeast corner of Ohio 122 and Union Road, and was annexed by the city from Warren County in 1997.

When the hospital closes on additional land there later this month, it will disclose the exact site, James says. But details about "the scope, size, capacity and funding" for the $125-million medical complex will not be released until after the hospital board reviews them "in a month or so," he said.

Goundbreaking is slated for early 2005, he said.

"We are waiting on some information to complete the project design," James said.

Plans for the hospital's move from a central Middletown neighborhood to the growing east end have been veiled in secrecy since the city reached an agreement 18 months ago with the hospital to keep it in the city.

At the time, the hospital was planning to move into unincorporated Warren County east of I-75, about two miles south of the new site. But Warren County officials and Turtlecreek Township residents objected to the proposed 550-acre medical campus near Greentree Road.

After the current site was selected, Warren County commissioners were asked to contribute $5 million over five years to improve nearby roads and bridges. Commissioners have balked at the request.

So new Mayor Bob Wells says his first priority is meeting sometime this month with Warren County officials about the hospital move.

"I'm going there humbly. I want to be low key. I'll ask them: Are you going to help us or not?" he said.

Commissioner Mike Kilburn said Wednesday he is willing to meet with Wells.

"I'm a public official so I meet with everybody. But this is their project," Kilburn said. "We're interested in doing things for Warren County and spending money on Warren County projects. ... If I'm going to build a Warren County project, I'm not going to build it in Clermont County and ask them to do those services."

Commissioners have indicated they may be willing to give some money - though likely not $5 million - toward public roads and a county-owned bridge on Union Road. Kilburn also expressed concern about some of the future costs the county might incur, such as autopsies done at the hospital by the Warren County coroner.

James, the hospital spokesman, says the Middletown city administration has been kept informed of hospital developments at monthly meetings. But Wells says that's not enough.

"It's been two years," Wells said, "and it's time for the hospital to say something."

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