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Hospital remodeling may be step closer

The county picks a firm to study whether renovating the old Brooksville Regional is feasible and affordable.

By ASJYLYN LODER
Published August 12, 2006


Hernando County edged a little closer to a decision Friday about what to do with the old Brooksville Regional Hospital, picking a firm to tell the County Commission if renovating the vacant building would be feasible and affordable.

A selection committee ranked its top three firms. Strollo Architects of Orlando topped the list.

"I felt like he was going to be real up front and not tell us what we want to hear but what we need to hear," said Commission Chairwoman Diane Rowden, who served on the selection committee.

The next step is for the County Commission to approve the ranking and authorize county staffers to negotiate a professional services contract with the firm, said county engineer Gregg Sutton, the project manager and a member of the search committee.

Then he will negotiate a price and a time line with the firm and bring them back to the commission for approval.

His "aggressive" estimate was that the contract might be approved by mid to late September. The firm's first order of business is to tell the county if the building is stable enough and if it would be prohibitively expensive to convert it into a government center.

County officials have long complained of the tight quarters at the Government Center on N Main Street. Then Health Management Associates, a Naples company that operates both Brooksville Regional and Spring Hill Regional hospitals, decided to abandon the hospital for a new location on Cortez Boulevard and Lykes Dublin Road.

Once the hospital moved into its new 183,000-square-foot facility last year, the county took over the three vacant buildings and 11 acres.

It looked like a possible solution: Renovate the hospital and move some county offices there.

Altogether, the old facility on Ponce de Leon Boulevard totals 117,000 square feet. Its oldest building was built in 1961. The first tower was erected in 1971, and the second followed 10 years later.

It is costing the county nearly $50,000 a month to maintain the vacant building. The climate control must be left on to prevent water damage from humidity.

In early 2005, the county received a preliminary study that estimated the cost of renovations at $7-million for cosmetic improvements to $18.5-million for a complete overhaul that includes remodeling, a new roof, adding updated wiring for modern communications and hurricane proofing.

However, costs have increased by approximately 1.5 percent a month since that report was received, putting the cost of a full renovation at at least $22-million, the consultant told the commission in April.

The new study will be more detailed, Sutton said.

"This is a more in-depth look, really getting into the condition of the building," he said. "They'll really give us a good idea of the condition of the building. Is the place going to fall down? Is it in great shape? How much is it going to cost to maintain or use it?"

The 2005 report estimated that the facility was worth approximately $165-million, while the cost of building a new government center would run to more than $200-million after land costs, utility connections, site work and construction.

If the county offices did jump to a renovated hospital, the Government Center will likely be expanded to accommodate the cramped court system.

The new report will study the cost and feasibility of both the conversion of the hospital and the renovation of the Government Center into courts.

Sutton hoped to get commission authorization to begin negotiating with Strollo by the end of the month. The other two finalists were DLR Group of Orlando, which ranked second, and third-ranked CRA Architects of Tallahassee, which prepared the county's preliminary study of the hospital.

The study will move forward in several phases. The first phase begins with the cost and feasibility analysis on both the hospital and the Government Center.

Once that is completed, the commission will decide whether to proceed with preliminary designs and more specific construction estimates. Phase 3 will include the final choice of design and the final cost estimate.

Sutton had no time frame set on how long it would take but said the entire process would likely take at least a year. The cost of the study has not been negotiated.

Asjylyn Loder can be reached at aloder@sptimes.com or 352754-6127.