Vail Council Approves Medical Center Plan

Vail Council Approves Medical Center Plan

VAIL — An ambitious project to redevelop Vail Valley Medical Center's Vail campus cleared an important hurdle Tuesday when the Vail Town Council voted 6-0 — council member Greg Moffet was absent — to approve a master plan for the work.

Approval of the plan isn't the final step in the town's approval process. A detailed plan for expanding and renovating the west wing of the hospital is now being reviewed by the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission. That town board is expected to give its approval to the development plan at its meeting on Monday. The project requires a development agreement between the town and the medical center.

Vail Community Development Department Director George Ruther said he expects the first building permits to be issued within the next two months or so keeping the medical center on track to begin construction this year.

A second part of the plan the renovation of the east wing of the hospital is expected to have its first planning commission hearings in the fall.

One of the difficulties with the full plan is the necessity to keep the hospital operating through construction. That's why the work is being spread out. Hospital officials expect the project to take five years — Ruther described the plan as a “five- to seven-year” project.

CONTROVERSIAL HELIPAD

Building a new helipad on the campus was the most controversial element of the plan. The current plan calls for an 80-foot-tall structure to be built near the current entrance to the Evergreen Lodge. That pad will be have a snowmelt system as well as a weather station to provide real-time on-site data.

Residents have said they're worried about safety at the new helipad which will be in essence across the street from the current pad.

West Meadow Drive resident Merv Lapin also questioned the need for an 80-foot structure for the pad which he said will “stick out like a very sore thumb.”

Ronald Snow a resident of the nearby Scorpio condominiums asked council members how tightly they can regulate flight paths into and out of the facility.

Rex Alexander an aviation consultant for the medical center said there are no federal requirements but that the hospital can and will sign operation agreements with air ambulance companies detailing recommended flight paths and operations.

But Alexander said safety considerations give pilots the option to change the way they fly into and out of a facility.

“I know the neighborhood has been concerned about this” council member Dale Bugby said. “I believe (the helipad) will be safer in the future than it is now.”

The hospital renovation will also move the main entrance and emergency department which will be accessed via South Frontage Road instead of the current entrance along West Meadow Drive.

Tom Braun the land planner who has worked for the hospital on the plan said current studies indicate there are approximately 1325 vehicle trips per day to the hospital. When the east wing is finished the hospital traffic on that street will be limited almost entirely to delivery vehicles which now account for 23 trips per day.

Part of the west wing work will convert current patient parking to employee parking a move Braun said will cut vehicle trips on West Meadow Drive to between 250 and 325 trips per day.

LISTENING TO RESIDENTS

Vail Homeowners Association Director Jim Lamont is also a West Meadow Drive resident. Lamont said the final plan is as good a job as Vail officials have ever done in considering the future and listening to residents. Lamont also praised medical center CEO Doris Kirchner for encouraging hospital officials to reach out to and listen to neighbors on West Meadow Drive.

“What we have done here for the first time is to create substance out of ether” Lamont said. “We have more substance than we have ever had on this parcel of land and with this institution.”