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    Hospital gets nod to build up, not out

    Safety Harbor's commissioners vote to allow the expansion project to begin.

    By LEON M. TUCKER

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 19, 2000


    SAFETY HARBOR -- Mease Countryside Hospital's $66-million expansion cleared another hurdle when commissioners voted Monday night to allow portions of the project to exceed 35-foot height limits.

    Construction at the hospital, on McMullen-Booth Road just south of Curlew Road, now can begin next month. The project entails constructing a medical office building and adding two floors at two different portions of the hospital.

    Slated to last four years, the project will add more than 350,000 square feet to the hospital. The hospital now is 238,000 square feet.

    The project's first phase calls for constructing a 73-foot medical office building, which will house physicians' offices and clinics. Phase Two will add a fourth and fifth floor to the hospital's main building. Phase Four will add fourth and fifth floors to the hospital tower. With each of those phases creating structures more than 35 feet in height, the hospital needed city approval, which was granted Monday night.

    Approval was not needed for Phase Three because it calls for the demolition of Mease clinic.

    "The additions to Mease Countryside will allow us to keep the facility's original footprint as we build up and not out," said Leigh Wallace, spokeswoman for Morton Plant Mease Health Care, the hospital's parent company. "Transfer-wise, it's easier for a patient to go up rather than farther out into the hospital -- especially for the elderly patients."

    Ron Pianta, community development director for Safety Harbor, said the city is comfortable in allowing the hospital to exceed height requirements.

    "They satisfied all the development requirements and have received the variance," Pianta said. "The hospital is located a good distance away from the neighborhoods so we felt that (the planned construction) was in the appropriate location."

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