Aspen hospital expansion could cost $100M |

Aspen hospital expansion could cost $100M

John Colson
Aspen, CO Colorado
An artist's rendering shows what the proposed expansion of Aspen Valley Hospital might look like, including a two-story, curved-glass atrium entry and the paved, white top of a three-story parking garage to the right of the hospital building. (Courtesy Aspen Valley Hospital)

ASPEN ” Aspen’s local, nonprofit hospital is about to embark on an expansion plan that could cost $100 million and take seven years to complete ” or it could cost even more and take even longer.

The Aspen Valley Hospital board of directors on Monday gave its nod to what is known as the Facilities Master Plan, a document that has been in the works since late 2006, when the board first approved the concept of nearly tripling the hospital’s size.

According to plans presented to the board Monday night, the hospital ” currently around 70,000 square feet ” will end up at more than 200,000 square feet when construction is complete. The new facility will be built along environmental lines.

Already under way is phase one: a new obstetrics ward at the north end of the building next to the existing cafeteria. The new obstetrics ward is expected to cost approximately $6 million; the money is coming from a 2003 bond issue, most of which paid for an earlier set of facility improvements ” to the medical records department and the pharmacy, among others.

Regarding payment for the master plan project, hospital officials still are working on the details of the construction itself and won’t have accurate cost projections for some time.

But, according to officials, some of the money is likely to come from the hospital’s cash reserves, which now stand at “around $30 million,” CEO David Ressler said. Other potential sources of funds, according to Ressler and board president John Sarpa, are donations from wealthy supporters of the hospital, and the issuance of bonds with the backing of the hospital’s operating income and its mill levy.

When the overall project might be finished, according to officials, is rather murky. As things stand, construction on the second phase of the project could not begin before the fall of 2008.

And, officials said Monday, if financing becomes a problem after the completion of phase two is done, many believe the hospital could function adequately with no further expansion for some time.

“Obviously, it’s better to do it all at once,” Sarpa said. “That’s our objective.”

The new facility will have a different orientation, with its main front entrance facing the Schultz Health and Human Services building across Doolittle Drive to the east. It will have a total of 39 patient beds, instead of the current 25.

The hospital, built in 1977, originally had 49 patient beds. But changes in the industry have lead to a greater emphasis on outpatient treatment, with the result that the hospital converted many patient rooms to other uses.

The reduced number of beds has made the hospital eligible ” as a small, rural facility ” for extra “Critical Access Hospital” Medicaid payments, to the tune of approximately $1 million per year, Ressler said.

But, he continued, the hospital’s patient load has been increasing, even as industry standards have been changing.

“Most of our departments are about one-half the size that they need to be,” he said, and, in the past couple of years, the hospital has hit its maximum patient census more than once.

“We get very close every season” to needing more beds than are available, he admitted, and hospital officials have in the past conceded that some patients’ medical procedures have been delayed until a bed was available.

By going beyond the 25-bed maximum, the hospital would lose that $1 million per year in revenue, Ressler said.

“But we really won’t have any choice,” hospital spokeswoman Ginny Dyche noted, and Ressler concurred.

“That will drive when we depart from our Critical Access Hospital status,” Ressler said.

The new “patient care unit” (the ward where inpatient rooms are located) will be at the northern end of the building ” away from corridors the general public and outpatients travel ” to preserve privacy.

The PCU wing will have two stories, and the second floor primarily will consist primarily of doctors’ offices and therapy facilities. There also will be a second story on the eastern side of the expanded hospital. This second story, again, is intended for doctors’ offices.

In addition, small basement areas for storage and support functions will be dug out beneath both the PCU and the emergency/surgery wing.

The refurbished hospital will feature expanded surgical and emergency care units, again situated in the part of the hospital that is not generally open to the public. At the front of the building, there also will be a much larger cafeteria, along with the main lobby and other public amenities.

The new facility also will feature a below-grade, three-deck parking garage just to the west of the existing front parking lot ” between the hospital and Castle Creek Road. The top deck of the garage is to be on the same level with the existing parking lot. The lower level will lead out onto a loop service road linked to the entrance to the Whitcomb Terrace senior center’s parking circle. The loop will curve up and around the back of the expanded and reoriented hospital building, and connect with Doolittle Drive and the intersection with Castle Creek Road that historically has been the only entrance to the hospital.

The hospital administration originally hoped to bring plans, cost estimates and a loose construction schedule to the board by the end of 2006, according to Ressler. The date for a presentation of those plans and estimates was moved back twice, once to February and again to May.

In May, the administration pulled back the plans once again, which Ressler acknowledged this week was the result of alarm over construction estimates that put the cost of the project at more than $100 million.

Consultant Russ Sedmak of Heery/HLM Design, which is heading the project, told the hospital board Monday that “value engineering” had trimmed “about 20 percent” of the original estimates, to get to the $100 million mark.

John Colson’s e-mail address is

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