Abingdon hospital site work continues despite financial downfall

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Debra McCown, Media General News Service

The fairy-tale scene presented in a late-summer groundbreaking - when a new Johnston Memorial Hospital in Abingdon was labeled “a dream come true” - has given way to silt fences and mounds of frozen dirt.

The site work started despite delays in finalizing the corporate partnership that will ultimately finance the project.

“As you drive by, you can see they’ve started site work,” said Steve Givens, chief operating officer for the hospital. “They’ll be doing that for a little while, then they’ll start doing some foundation work, and probably in the spring they’ll start erecting some of the structures.”

Under construction on a hilltop overlooking U.S. Highway 11 near Interstate 81’s Exit 19, the new hospital will replace the current facilities on Court Street.
At the construction site Friday, answering questions while aboard a skid loader, a worker said 20 or more people are working seven days a week moving dirt and building a retaining wall.

Armando Navarro Morales, the foreman for building the retaining wall, said the only delays come from the weather, when the ground is too frozen or saturated with water for earthmovers to operate.

Givens said financing for the project comes from the private, nonprofit hospital’s money and investments - and the work will not be hindered by the delays in the deal that will give Mountain States Health Alliance a controlling interest in the hospital in exchange for paying most of the projected $135 million construction cost.

Spokesmen for both corporations have said while no definite closing date has been set, they expect the deal, which has already cleared regulatory hurdles, to be finalized in March 2009.

“Both parties are fully committed to the partnership, and we are very confident that the financing details will be able to be worked out very soon,” said Brook Lambert, spokeswoman for Johnston Memorial.

“The current volatile state of the economy has made it more challenging than originally anticipated for [Mountain States] to obtain funding ... at a reasonable interest rate,” Lambert later explained in an e-mail. Mountain States “did have financing options they could have moved forward with on December 1st, but the interest rate on those options was high,” she said.

An employee training program needed to integrate the Johnston Memorial into Mountain States Health System is still going forward as scheduled.
The 116-bed, 251,000-square-foot hospital will be built to green building standards and will have space for future expansion inside and outside. It also will have an expanded emergency department, and all of the rooms will be private.

Givens said he expects the facility to be completed in two years. The new hospital is scheduled to open in the fall of 2010.

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