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Vail hospital plan start council review

Scott Miller

VAIL — Just planning a series of big changes to Vail's hospital has taken more than two years. The actual building could be finished by 2019.

The Vail Town Council and the public are taking their final looks at a master facility plan for Vail Valley Medical Center. That plan if approved will then launch a $100 million renovation plan at the hospital's current home on roughly five acres along West Meadow Drive between Vail Village and Lionshead.

The hardest part of the project is the fact the hospital will have to remain open throughout several phases of construction. The first phase will construct a fourth floor atop the existing west wing of the building. The next big project will be a complete replacement of the hospital's east wing once the west wing is finished and facilities are moved out of the east wing.

Also included in the plan is new parking relocating the emergency department and funneling as much traffic as possible into the hospital from South Frontage Road instead of West Meadow Drive.

There are a lot of trips now. Tom Braun a planner working for the medical center on the project said there's an average of 1400 passenger car trips to and from the hospital every day. Those vehicles will be re-routed onto South Frontage Road.

The current plan — which was approved recently by the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission — would leave delivery truck traffic on West Meadow. Braun said between 20 and 28 trucks per day drive to the hospital. Almost all of those trucks will use a new enclosed loading and delivery area. That garage will be big enough for a 30-foot box van to turn around inside. The loading and delivery area will also have the hospital's trash and recycling areas.

While medical center and town officials have been talking for more than two years there are several potential complications. Those include a potential roundabout on South Frontage Road that would serve as both the entrance to the hospital and the Vail municipal complex.

The town also owns a portion of the medical center's parking lot. The future ownership and use of that parcel still has to be figured out and the medical center and Evergreen Lodge are negotiating another land exchange.

“There's a lot of potential in that for us and them” Braun said.


New Helipad?

Part of that potential involves what's become by far the most contentious matter in the plan — a new helipad.

The current helipad in town sits on the north side of South Frontage Road just west of the Vail Community Development Department offices. According to hospital officials the current helipad site complicates getting patients into and out of the medical center. Patients now have to be loaded into an ambulance for transport to the hospital or the helicopter. That adds time expense and complexity they said.

Current plans call for a building on the northwest corner of the medical center property. That building would rise roughly 75 feet above current ground level and would be connected to the main hospital via a corridor.

But moving the helipad has always been a concern for neighbors who worry about both noise and safety.

Bruce Bowling owns a condo near the hospital. Addressing the council Tuesday Bowling said discussions about the helipad drew some of the most pointed exchanges during planning commission meetings.

The helipad issue is important enough that the council has dedicated the entirety of one of the four scheduled public hearings to the topic. That meeting is set for Feb. 17.

Bowling urged the town to hire its own consultant to examine safety noise and other potential problems with the proposed helipad location.

Vail Community Development Department Director George Ruther said the town has already done that and the report will be presented at the Feb. 17 meeting.

“The helipad's location appropriateness and safety is the key to whatever happens to the rest of this plan” Bowling said. “The decision on the helipad affects everything else.”