UPMC Northwest building plans remain on schedule


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The new UPMC Northwest hospital in Cranberry Township is nearly two-thirds complete, according to reports offered Wednesday at the annual UPMC Northwest Foundation meeting. The new facility will sport a circular heliport that is heated to ward off snow and ice buildup.

UPMC Northwest's ambitious building agenda in Venango County is "on schedule and on budget," according to its top local hospital official, and is poised to grow even larger.

"We expect to be operational in early October 2004," said Neil Todhunter, chief executive officer at UPMC Northwest, the owner of hospitals in Oil City and Franklin.

Todhunter briefly outlined the ongoing hospital projects, most specifically the new $65 million hospital in Cranberry Township, during Wednesday's annual meeting of the UPMC Northwest Foundation corporation.

The foundation is a stand-alone, locally controlled entity, said chairman William Clark Jr., that provides funding to the local health center. Its membership is comprised of 345 local residents.

At the heart of the corporation's efforts to raise money is the new hospital under construction on a 144-acre parcel in Cranberry Township. Construction on the four-story, 211,000-square-foot hospital began in the spring of 2002 and it is nearly two-thirds finished.

While the hospital offers the largest single evidence of UPMC Northwest in the county, it is not the only project under way.

"The UPMC Northwest investment in the county so far is at $75 million in buildings and equipment," Todhunter said.

There is more on the way, said the longtime hospital executive.

* To date, the main hospital building and a connected 28-bed behavioral health center, at a cost of $3.5 million, are under construction in Cranberry Township.

* The Open MRI Center, pegged at $3.9 million, is nearly completed along Route 8 in Reno and is scheduled to open for patients on Jan. 12.

*Meanwhile, renovations are continuing at the former Quaker State Innovation Center along Route 257, a building that will house UPMC Northwest's non-medical offices.

* Two other projects that had only been hinted at earlier appear now to be in the final planning stages at the new hospital site. They are a physicians' office building and a transitional care/rehabilitation building, both pegged to the Cranberry Township parcel.

Todhunter said area physicians are in the process of signing leases for the doctors' building, a three-story complex that will house between 15 and 18 medical practices. The estimated cost is between $6 and $7 million, he said. A private developer will build and own the structure and UPMC Northwest will lease it.

Meanwhile, deliberations are continuing with UPMC in Pittsburgh to construct a one-story Transitional Care Unit and Rehabilitation Center. It will be adjacent to the new hospital. The two health services had not been specifically pegged to any one site as hospital officials examined alternatives.

"We are planning for the future ... and we hope to have this finalized by early 2004 with work to perhaps begin by the fall," Todhunter told the foundation members.

One other building-related project is in the early planning stages, said the CEO. It is a child development center, one that would serve UPMC Northwest employees and the community. The hospital is working with the Child Development Center agency that operates child care facilities throughout the county. The cost is estimated at between $1 and $2 million.

It all adds up to a substantial investment, Todhunter said.

"We're at $75 million and with the office building, TCU and others, that will mean another $12.5 million investment," he said.

In other matters, Clark was nominated to serve another term as chairman of the foundation board. Also named to posts were James H. Williams Jr., vice chairman; Henry W. Gent III, secretary; and William H. Mays, treasurer. The foundation board will elect officers at an upcoming meeting.

Roger McCauley, executive director of the foundation, announced the organization will soon launch its annual appeal for contributions. The campaign, "Branching Out," will encourage residents and organizations to purchase foliage shade and flowering trees to plant on the hospital grounds.

"It will put the finishing touches on the new hospital," said McCauley, adding that 400 trees are pegged for the UPMC Northwest property.