Hospital expansions on the horizon in Portland

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PORTLAND — The city’s two major hospitals are poised for significant expansions.

As Maine Medical Center prepares for the first Planning Board site review workshop Jan. 23 on a planned $512 million project, Mercy Hospital has begun a renewed effort to expand its Fore River Parkway campus.

“The important thing to understand, this is a badly needed project for patient care,” Maine Med spokesman John Porter said Tuesday.

Mercy Hospital President Charlie Therrien said a return to economic health means it is time to move forward with Mercy’s revised expansion plans.

“We are launching the more formal planning process,” Therrien said Monday. “There is a lot to be done; we are in a position now where we feel more comfortable going through (with it).”

Maine Medical Center’s site plan is part of the overriding institutional overlay zone approved by the City Council on Nov. 20, 2017. The first phase of the expansion will add two floors to the hospital’s East Tower on Crescent Street, build a new central utility plant on Gilman Street, and add three floors with 220 more spaces to the visitor parking garage on Congress Street.

The construction management plan calls for East Tower expansion to begin in March, garage work to begin in May, and the power plant construction to start in November.

Expanding the garage could require closing Congress Street between Weymouth and Forest streets for eight weeks in the spring, according to the construction management plan.

The plan said the closure is necessary for a crane to hoist precast sections for installation on the existing structure, which was designed for this type of expansion.

“I’m not a construction expert, so I can’t say (closing Congress Street) is an absolute necessity,” Porter said. “What our construction people are saying is, they need to use Congress Street as a staging area for the crane.”

The closure would require more than Planning Board approval, and Porter said the hospital continues to work with the city on how construction can best be done.

“We are boxed in,” he said of the garage’s surroundings. “An alternative has not been identified, but that’s what the process is for.”

The 60,000-square-foot East Tower expansion is expected to take 20 months and includes adding two floors and a rooftop helipad that would accommodate two helicopters at once.

Mercy moves ahead

A planned $70 million expansion of Mercy Hospital may take up to three years, Therrien said, and would result in services now provided on State Street being shifted to the Fore River campus that opened in 2008.

Even then, the expansion is smaller than originally planned almost a decade ago, Therrien said.

What was once envisioned as a 250,000-square-foot expansion has been more than halved to 108,000 square feet, in part because hospital officials have re-evaluated needs and how services are provided.

“What we did last year was to look strategically at what health care will look like over the next few years,” Therrien said. The study included a look at patient demographics and how health care can be made more accessible in communities served by Mercy.

The estimate to expand has been calculated, and Therrien said a capital campaign is just beginning, but Mercy has nearly a year to plan more and see if its economic health is sustained.

On Dec. 22, the hospital filed a letter of intent with the state Health & Human Services Department to seek a certificate of need for the expansion. The hospital has a year to apply for the certificate of need from that date.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Adding floors to the Maine Medical Center parking garage on Congress Street, seen Dec. 28, could require closing the street for eight weeks this spring, according to plans.

Adding precast floors to the Maine Medical Center garage requires a crane to hoist sections and using both lanes of Congress Street for a working area, according to plans.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.