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Northern Arizona Healthcare constructs timeline for new Flagstaff Medical Center campus

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\Flagstaff Medical Center

Flagstaff Medical Center.

Northern Arizona Healthcare (NAH) plans to move the Flagstaff Medical Center (FMC) to be part of a larger health and wellness village, and the organization has said it is taking the summer and fall to get community input before taking its plans to the city for approval.

The project has been focused on community outreach and resubmitting its application over the past month, though, according to Steve Eiss, NAH's vice president of real estate and development, this is expected and does not change its overall timeline.

The move to a new campus first started in 2019, Eiss said, when “NAH came to the realization that they needed to grow from the community perspective." The region’s growth meant that FMC needed additional licensed beds and upgraded technology. 

He added that the current operating rooms are not sized for modern equipment and many of FMC's inpatient beds are in double-occupancy rooms (the current standard is single occupancy).

"We're just constantly bumping up against census from a bed capacity perspective," Eiss said. "We plan on growing our bed capacity by about 50 beds -- which is about a 20% growth in bed capacity in the future facility."

He said NAH initially tried to create a master plan for growth in the current location, hiring a healthcare architect and planner to think through a remodel of the existing FMC campus.

In the end, it “would be extremely expensive and an extremely time-consuming endeavor to try and redo the growth of the existing campus just because of the space confines that they currently are in,” Eiss said.

NAH then acquired the land for the new site, an undeveloped area near Fort Tuthill County Park. The organization first submitted zoning applications for the project on April 30.

NAH then hosted a number of meetings with community groups and associations over the summer. In one that took place Aug. 19, project leaders said the organization was using August through October for voluntary outreach and a public participation process.

“We have taken the longer route to make sure what we build...supports community for a really long time...gives us the expansion capacity to take care and not have to ever move from this place [and]...that we can control what actually goes into this campus to meet the definition of a wellness village,” NAH chief operations officer Josh Tinkle said in the August meeting.

NAH has continued to have community meetings over the past month, Eiss said. It resubmitted the application to the city in mid-September with some clarifying information on topics such as the economic impact report, the location of certain types of buildings and maintaining a wellness retreat and green space west of the hospital as a buffer between its western neighbors.

A traffic impact analysis, which started Aug. 30, is still in progress and will be attached to the application once complete -- hopefully the end of this month, Eiss said on Friday. It was delayed at the city’s request, he said, so that it could be completed when Northern Arizona University was in session.

This is all “very normal practice,” Eiss said, especially for a project with this level of complexity.

Now that the application has been resubmitted, NAH is working with the city to schedule two more formal public participation meetings. NAH had initially said these would take place in September but now says the meetings will happen soon, hopefully by the end of the year.

The two meetings that have yet to be scheduled are the only two mandatory ones, he said. NAH has held “either 52 or 54” community presentations by Oct. 8, and were willing to schedule more with interested community groups, including businesses and homeowners associations. 

NAH has also been working through a schematic design process on the hospital and ambulatory care center (ACC) over the past month with HKS architecture and the McCarthy and Lovett joint partnership providing pre-construction support to help explain potential costs. 

Schematic design is a preliminary process that Eiss called “a really high-level understanding of the layout of the hospital.” It considers topics such as department adjacency and clarifies the quantity of different types of rooms needed based on projected volumes.

“We just dove into the shape of the building a little further, of what could this hospital look like…but not going through this detailed design effort until we understand what comes out of the planning zoning piece of the city, and also we still have future community meetings that have to be held later this year," he said. 

NAH is planning to continue working at the schematic level until the plans go through Planning and Zoning and the Flagstaff City Council. More detailed design work will come after.

“We don't want to get very far down the road without understanding what the city would like from us and what the committee needs from us,” Eiss said.

Due to its smaller size, plans for the ACC will be submitted and completed first.

Eiss said design drawings for the ACC will take around seven months and designs for the hospital will take about a year.

Once the design drawings are complete, NAH will submit them to the city to obtain a building permit.

“There’s a zoning approval process, which is what we’re going through now [and] tells us what we can build, where we can build it on our site and clarifies densities, heights -- the aesthetics of the building,” Eiss said. “But then, after that, process the actual construction documents that our architects and engineers put together that we will build off of need to go to the public safety division for the actual building permit.”

Eiss said NAH was planning to break ground in the third quarter of 2022, specifically September. He said this is in part “driven by city timelines, [though] some of this is driven by our own ability to get work done.”

The ACC is expected to be finished in 2024 and the hospital in 2026. Both buildings are planned to open 60 to 90 days after construction finishes to give time for the ADHS review and licensure process and for NAH’s activation and fit out process, Eiss said.

NAH has not yet started work on its plans for the current FMC campus or the rest of the health and wellness village in the new location. 

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