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All Children's buys land to expand services

The immediate goal of All Children's $70-million, 20-year project is to upgrade the neonatal unit and the cardiac program.

By LENNIE BENNETT

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 18, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- All Children's Hospital has bought nearby land for $2.35-million that will spur an expansion likely to double the size of the main hospital and add a new outpatient center.

The project is expected to cost as much as $70-million and take up to 20 years. Work on the first phase -- the outpatient center -- should begin next year.

"We've gone through the review and planning stage," All Children's president Dennis Sexton said Tuesday. "Now we're starting the design and development phase."

The challenge, he said, was never whether expansion was necessary, but how to make it happen.

The hospital sits in a burgeoning area near Bayboro Harbor, boxed in by the historic Roser Park neighborhood to the south, the Bayfront Medical complex to the north and west and Fourth Street, a major artery, to the east. Beyond is the growing St. Petersburg campus of the University of South Florida.

"It was a major issue to stay in downtown St. Petersburg," Sexton said. "We're built out to the property line, so we had to see if we could grow on this site. We looked at a lot of scenarios."

The property that opened up new possibilities for expansion is north of the hospital, on Sixth Avenue S, just north of the emergency entrance for Bayfront Medical Center. All Children's recently purchased it from Frances Pruitt for $2.35-million, Sexton said.

That real estate, combined with another, larger parcel on the east side of Sixth Street S, will allow All Children's to build a 200,000-square-foot facility that will consolidate all local outpatient services now operated at various locations on the hospital grounds. Sexton said that "the new property gives us the opportunity to build new facilities or exchange properties." The outpatient building's location northeast of Sixth Street and Sixth Avenue S is set, but some of the newly purchased land might be traded for another parcel nearer the hospital for its expansion.

Because the new outpatient building would not be in the flight path of Albert Whitted Airport, as the hospital is, it can eventually be expanded to rise as high as 10 stories. The Children's Health Center across the street from the hospital, which now houses most of those services, will be demolished and replaced with a hospital addition.

All Children's Hospital was opened in 1927 in an old fruit packing plant as the American Legion Hospital for Crippled Children. Its young patients all had polio. Over several moves and with the eradication of polio, the mission of the hospital changed.

By 1967, it had relocated to a new building on the current site and was called All Children's Hospital. It has grown, says Sexton, who has led it for 30 years, "like a Lego hospital," with additions and outbuildings added as property came on the market. When he joined the staff of 165, the hospital budget was $1.4-million. Today, All Children's, which is a not-for-profit hospital, has a staff of 2,000 and a budget of $300-million funded with government dollars and private donations.

The new long-range plan has emerged after months of discussion with Karlsberger and Associates, an architectural firm in Columbus, Ohio, that specializes in children's medical facilities and has worked with All Children's for two decades. The tension between serving inpatients (children who stay for a night or longer) and outpatients (those who need less intense medical attention or follow-ups to inpatient care) had to be resolved. Last year, Sexton said, the hospital had 7,800 inpatient admissions and 200,000 outpatient visits, and resources are strained.

"We realized that we couldn't keep stacking and squeezing services into the existing footprint. Then this property became available."

The immediate goal for the hospital expansion, Sexton said, is to upgrade the neonatal unit and the cardiac program for children and adults, ultimately doubling the current 400,000 square feet, but it will not add inpatient beds to the existing 219, Sexton said.

And he expects that most goals will be met in 10, not 20, years "because we always tend to speed things up."

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