Laurelhurst, Children's Hospital at it again over planned expansion
Hospital expansion plans threaten to revive "negative feelings" between Children's and its neighbors.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Community meetingsChildren's Hospital will display the model of its proposed expansion and give residents an update about its plans.
Oct. 13: 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.
Oct. 23: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Both meetings will be at Laurelhurst Community Center, 4554 N.E. 41st St.
Information: Children's Community Relations department, 206-987-4519
Two formidable forces — the Laurelhurst neighborhood and Children's Hospital — are at odds again, this time over plans by the medical center to more than double its size.
The Laurelhurst Community Club says the desire of Children's Hospital to build four tall medical towers and double its parking capacity would ruin a residential neighborhood already beset by hospital-related congestion.
"We have a wonderful neighborhood and we just want to keep it that way," says Jeannie Hale, the club's president. "You have to remember Children's is a business, and they're competing with other hospitals."
Serving kids from four states, the 250-bed Children's Hospital & Regional Medical Center covers the largest geographic area of any regional pediatric hospital in the country.
Administrators say it's running out of space and may need to turn children away in five years if current trends continue.
Those trends, administrators say, show increasing numbers of sick kids seeking care, kids with more complicated health issues, and longer or more frequent hospital stays. Just this year the hospital did its first bowel transplant — on a child who now can eat.
As a regional resource, "we are stating what our needs are to the best of our ability," says Ruth Benfield, the hospital's vice president for facilities. "Our crystal ball is by no means clear."
Under the hospital's proposal, the building area would more than double, to at least 2.2 million square feet, and the number of parking stalls would also double, to more than 4,000.
The roof of the tallest proposed building would be 90 feet higher than the roof of the tallest existing building.
The hospital says it's better to build up, rather than expand into new areas, so that fragile children aren't moved among facilities, and so that operating rooms, diagnostic labs and therapy rooms are close by.
The hope is to open the first tower by 2012, with the other buildings being put up over the following 15 years.
The community club wants to limit the expansion to 250,000 square feet and leave maximum building heights the same.
The City Council and the hospital have created an advisory committee of hospital and neighborhood representatives to guide public discussions and recommend solutions.
A committee hearing Wednesday night drew a standing-room-only crowd of about 100 people. Neighbors were abuzz about a recent report from the city's planning department calling on the hospital to offer scaled-back alternatives.
At the meeting, the committee approved a request from the Laurelhurst Community Club to ask city planners to consider options the club prefers.
Rod Cameron of Laurelhurst said his own child was successfully treated at the hospital, and he's grateful for that.
Still, he said, "I do not look forward to years of heavy construction going on at the site. I've endured a lot already."
The hospital's history goes back a century, to a time when the area had no doctors or hospitals specializing in children's care, and kids with complicated disorders could not be cured.
In 1907, Anna Herr Clise and 23 of her affluent women friends united to start the Children's Orthopedic Hospital Association, according to HistoryLink.org.
The hospital started as a wing of Seattle General Hospital, moving to a cottage on Queen Anne Hill in 1908 and expanding to an adjacent lot three years later.
In 1953, the hospital moved to the quiet and affluent Laurelhurst community, where active residents were not about to give up their tranquility without a fight.
Through the years, the hospital and neighbors have experienced growing pains together.
Benfield, the hospital's vice president for facilities, said Children's has worked hard to be a good neighbor.
In the 1980s, after the hospital built a parking garage, it started getting complaints that employees were parking on neighborhood streets. The hospital put a stop to the practice, Benfield said.
The hospital also asked ambulances to turn off their sirens as they neared the emergency room to keep the noise levels down — again, at the request of neighbors, according to Benfield.
In the 1990s, when the hospital proposed adding two helipads, the Laurelhurst Community Club objected, according to Hale, the club's president.
Hale said the concern was not about flying in critically ill or injured children, but that the hospital might noisily ferry in supplies and doctors anytime it wanted.
"We worked through that," Benfield said.
Now the hospital reports every quarter to local residents and a review committee on all its helicopter landings, the patient's diagnosis and whether the child lived or died.
That, Benfield says, assures the community "that we are using that technology only when we need to, as opposed to doing it in any frivolous way."
The helipads were part of a master plan approved by the City Council in the early 1990s.
"That was an extremely contentious process," Hale says. "It took almost a decade to repair the negative feelings about Children's, and the Laurelhurst Community Club worked very hard to do that."
The reconciliation was short-lived.
"It's changed now because they're starting this new master-planning process," Hale says, "and they have a new CEO who has a grander vision than we see for the role of Children's Hospital in a single-family neighborhood."
In July, city planners began the long process of reviewing the hospital's current proposal.
As part of that process, the city's planning department said in a report on Monday that the hospital should propose at least one alternative that doesn't involve such tall towers.
The report suggests, for example, that the hospital could excavate the hillside and put parking, utilities, laundry and food service below ground.
The council's final decision on what the hospital can build will take at least two years.
Until then, says Hale, "We'll be involved every step of the way."
Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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