Hospital project moving ahead in Cranberry
By JUDITH O. ETZEL, The Derrick, 7/20/01

A Special thank you goes out to The Derrick for allowing this article to be posted.

Photo by Jerry Sowden - Surveyors, soil testers and others are working on a Cranberry Township property where a new UPMC Northwest hospital will be built. Surveyor Ross Tait is with Lucas Land Surveying, Inc., of Glenshaw. UPMC representatives have toured the Cranberry site several times and "are very supportive of the decision to move to Cranberry," according to Northwest.
Three weeks after scuttling a Reno site for a new $65 million hospital, UPMC Northwest is moving "full steam ahead" to get the project off the drawing board and onto a rolling meadow in Cranberry Township. 
"It's moving along rapidly and we're full steam ahead on this," said Neil Todhunter, CEO at Northwest. "We don't see any issues here." 
That is in sharp contrast to a year-long effort aimed at putting the new hospital, the heart of a merger agreement with the Pittsburgh-based UPMC health care network, just off Route 8 in Reno. That came to a screeching halt June 29 when the hospital board decided land acquisition efforts in the village were too costly and too time-consuming, a predicament that put building a new hospital there at risk. 
Todhunter said he and the hospital board believed the Reno site was the best location based on strong sentiments expressed by several communities, most particularly Oil City and Franklin. Having it there benefited the most consumers, Todhunter said, but while it was the ideal spot, it became fraught with too many issues, he added. 
"We truly believe Reno was the perfect place and, since others did, too, we were trying to fulfill those wishes. It just couldn't be done, though, without a significant risk to the whole project," he reiterated. 
As to public response to UPMC Northwest's decision to switch from Reno to Cranberry, the health organization's second choice, Todhunter said the reaction was nearly universal. 
"Nearly everyone told us they were disappointed we were not able to do it in Reno. But they also told us that we need to get this project going so we don't lose it. There was an acceptance of what the consequences could be," he said. 
In Cranberry Township, the 123-acre gently rolling farm property destined as the new hospital site and already owned by the hospital's charitable foundation is busy with surveyors, soil testers and others hurrying to finish preliminary work. UPMC representatives have toured the Cranberry site several times and "are very supportive of the decision to move to Cranberry," according to Northwest. 
The Northwest parcel, once pegged by the Visiting Nurses Association as the site for a proposed retirement complex, is surrounded by a 99-acre tract owned by the township and five other private properties. UPMC Northwest has options to buy the five smaller parcels. 
There have been reports that at least two of those property owners jacked up the prices of their land when approached by UPMC Northwest, a situation similar to what happened in a few instances at Reno. However, UPMC Northwest has sufficient land of its own and has reportedly told those charging the high prices it is not interested in their deals. 
Todhunter would only say the hospital is in good shape, land-wise. 
"We don't need all the land we have optioned. Fortunately, we're in a position that we don't have to pay more than market value," he said. 
The delay in trying to finagle the land deals in Reno also put a crimp in the hospital design phase, Todhunter said. HBE Inc. of St. Louis, Mo., hired to design the new 110-bed hospital, has to redesign the facility so it is appropriate for the Cranberry land. 
"We haven't started that redesign yet but, once started, it should take 90 to 120 days. We're looking at various options to entrances and placement of the facility," Todhunter said. 
One issue that complicated the Reno deal was a wetlands area that required a change in the configuration there. UPMC Northwest was forced to expand the acreage down to Route 8 and that caused difficulties in securing additional land. Oil and gas operations in part of the Reno acreage were also a factor. 
That won't happen at the Cranberry site, Todhunter said. One small stream runs through a section of the property but is far enough away from the building site that it won't be a wetlands issue. There are no gas or oil wells on the property, either. 
Municipal water and sewage services are also easily accessible to the hospital site. Frank Pankratz, secretary-treasurer for Cranberry Township, said a 63-foot extension of the water line is all that is needed. 
The widening of Route 257 is in the design stage thanks to a long-range project by PennDOT. That work should be done within the next three years. Pankratz said the township has agreed to add a traffic light on Route 257 for an access road, which will be run across the parcel owned by the township, for the new hospital. 
"Our talks with Northwest have been very informal and we're not looking at very much at all in the way of expenses for what they need. I'd say a ballpark figure is about $25,000," Pankratz said. 
A construction contract, one that outlines what the new hospital will look like and what services it will offer, should be in hand by late October, Todhunter said. Signing that agreement will signal the formal merger of UPMC and Northwest. 
Groundbreaking for the new UPMC-Northwest hospital has been postponed several times but Todhunter hopes to "move a little dirt around" by the end of the year. The construction schedule will probably delay the completion, originally scheduled in 2003. 
The UPMC Northwest facility will be the 16th hospital in the sprawling UPMC health care system. In aligning with the health giant, Northwest anticipates the local hospital will offer two specific niche services - cancer care and neuroscience care. 
"Our two strong suits are our Cancer Center and our neurosciences, which resulted in Northwest being named one of the top 100 hospitals for stroke treatment in the country. Those physicians are in place and we hope to expand both programs at the new hospital," said Roger McCauley, senior vice president at Northwest.