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Articles / 2014

Community Memorial rising: $350M hospital in Ventura takes shape

Pacific Coast Business Times
By Christine De La Cruz

A rendering of the under-construction Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura. CMH raised the $350 million need to build the hospital by issuing tax-exempt bonds. (courtesy image)

The $350 million, 350,000-square-foot Community Memorial Hospital construction project in Ventura is on budget and on track, scheduled to open in the second half of 2015.

Crews are in the final stages of pouring concrete floors and completing the steel skeleton of the new hospital, a process that should be wrapped up in mid-February, according to Michael Ellingson, vice president of marketing and development for Community Memorial Health System. Work will then begin on the hospital's interior, including plumbing and electrical, and continue through next year. He said construction, which began in August 2011, should be finished in the middle of 2015 and the doors would open a couple of months later, once staff is trained in the new facility.

"Now that the steel's up, you can see it from all over the place, which is kind of cool," Ellingson told the Business Times. "You don't see these types of buildings get built very often in our community, so it really stands out now."

The catalyst for the project was a state seismic mandate requiring all acute-care hospitals in California to rebuild or retrofit their buildings to meet certain earthquake standards — a mandate that was unfunded. Community Memorial raised the $350 million for the project by issuing tax-exempt bonds.

The hospital pledged to raise about $25 million from Ventura County in philanthropic contributions and it has about 50 percent in hand from a "quiet" campaign of advance pledges, Ellingson said. The price tag for the project won't escalate because the hospital is using a design-build contractor that guarantees the price, he said. Design-build firms are contracted to provide both design and construction services.

The new building, which will have 250 private rooms compared with the current 242, will wrap around the existing hospital, a 50-year-old facility that was in need of modernization, Chief Operations Officer Adam Thunell told the Business Times. Patients are still being served at the existing facility during construction.

Though the increase in the number of beds is small, Thunell said the added space overall is "a significant increase when you understand that medicine is migrating more into an outpatient realm." The project is expanding capacity for the hospital's emergency room and surgical department. "We're planning for now and into the future — blocking out space knowing that new technology and procedures will come about in the next 20, 30 years that we need to plan for," he said.

When hospital officials sat down to plan construction, they had the option of building it on the outskirts of the city.

They chose to place the new hospital right next to the old one at 147 Brent St. in the center of midtown Ventura. "The project was touted by the city as a catalyst to revitalize the midtown area," Ellingson said. Though no renovation has occurred, he said the city is still excited about the possibility and has produced a report through the Urban Land Institute on the viability of improvements.

There are currently 80 to 120 people working on the hospital construction site, but that number will soon ramp up to 300 to 400, Ellingson said. And there has been a push to pull from the area's labor force. General contractor HBE Corp., based in St. Louis, has used several Ventura County-based companies as subcontractors, including Harrison Industries and Taft Electric Co., both in Ventura, Hayward Baker in Santa Paula and Oxnard's Toro Enterprises. "This has been a real boon for the local workers here and we're really proud of that," Ellingson said.

Once the hospital opens, its 2,000 existing employees will stay on, and the hospital will probably hire a few additional doctors and some additional maintenance employees.

Ojai hospital update

In addition to the new Ventura facility, a $12.5 million construction project is underway at Ojai Valley Community Hospital, another unit of the Community Memorial Health System. Seismic updates have been completed on the 1960s building, and work is currently being done to create additional patient waiting areas and spruce up the hospital's exterior.

The third phase of the project is the construction of a new skilled nursing facility. Plans have been drafted, Ellingson said, and a timeline should be determined soon.

More than 2,500 people signed beams at a recent community event for the under-construction Community Memorial Hospital in midtown Ventura. The $350 million project is on budget and on track to open in the second half of 2015. (courtesy photo)