MRCH Planning Massive Health, Ed & Ag Complex – January 18, 2012

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

JANES ROAD – In 10 years, Mad River Community Hospital (MRCH) will be the hub of a modern new community in northwest Arcata.

The CommunityLife Wellness Campus  is one of several projects poised to redefine not just Valley West, but north Arcata to the Mad River and west to the Arcata Bottom.

With a slate of improvements in the works for long-neglected Valley West, including landscaping, trails, trees, plus the 31-acre Mad River Parkway Business Center mixed-use development extending from Giuntoli Lane to the banks of the Mad River, yet another vast, mostly undeveloped tract of land is now primed for infill.

Mad River Properties, which owns the fields surrounding MRCH, is proceeding with its CommunityLife Wellness Campus, an ambitious project integrating a variety of new facilities – medical, educational, residential and even agricultural – across 20 acres.

Time frames for the projects are based in years, if a decade or more. But the plans being enacted now promise to develop and mature Arcata’s northernmost chunk into a modern, diverse community easily rivaling the southern/central area that springs most readily to mind at any mention of the town’s name.

The project was the brainchild and vision of Allen Shaw, now 94 years old and still living in the area, who saw the potential for such a campus when he first started building MRCH in 1969.

The Planning Commission approved the project as consistent with Arcata’s General Plan and Land Use Code in June.

The site is zoned for Public Facilities), which allows for things like hospitals, medical services, schools, childcare, residential care and sports and recreation facilities to use the site. And MRCH plans for all of these to be part of the Wellness Campus.

The core of the complex will be MRCH, with its overall design to be integrated with neighboring Pacific Union School and United Indian Health Services. And the complex includes a few new major facilities that will be major attractions of their own.

A typical building on the Wellness Campus. Courtesy LACO Associates

A typical building on the Wellness Campus. Courtesy LACO Associates

Among the Wellness Campus’s projected features:

• An expansion of MRCH, with a new wing just north of the existing hospital. The present hospital, most of which dates back to 1972, could eventually be repurposed as a senior facility.

• A new public health facility, possibly an Open Door Community Health Centers clinic, sited roughly between MRCH and UIHS.

• A new campus for Arcata’s acclaimed Northcoast Preparatory Academy (NPA). The top-rated high school has migrated from one temporary site to the next, and is now located at the Arcata United Methodist Church.

• An amphitheater/performance space and outdoor event area adjacent to the NPA campus. Among other things, this could host the annual Medieval Festival of Courage, currently held  on the MRP fields.

• A health/medical education facility, possibly linked to NPA.

• A senior assisted living facility, possibly occupying two or more structures, located north of Weott Way.

• A children’s daycare.

• A small farm. MRCH already has one, but it would be moved to  a new location on the eastern edge. This will continue to supply the hospital with produce and offer opportunities for community participation.

• Twelve open space areas totaling almost 16 acres. Features include an orchard and edible landscaping.

• A vast network of trails totaling more than one-and-a-half miles, with loops, spurs and a link to points beyond via Valley West through an undercrossing at the U.S. Highway 101/State Route 299 interchange east of UIHS. Drainages would be crossed via wooden pedestrian bridges.

• Parking for both autos and alternative transportation.

• A host of drainage and aesthetic improvements, including bio-swales, rain gardens, stormwater detention areas and natural berms to protect natural views.

How much and how soon all of this will be realized is unknown, though MRCH is aggressively pursuing the project, said Steve Engle, chief operating officer.

While MRCH representatives have repeatedly pointed out the challenges of maintaining an independent, local hospital in today’s difficult health care climate, Engle said the Wellness Campus plans represents a long-term commitment to local health care for Arcata.

“We’re making very ambitious plans, and Mad River Community Hospital is going to be around for a long time,” Engle said. “We’ve spent a lot of time on this, trying to do our best for the community.”

He credited MRCH CEO Doug Shaw for the project’s comprehensiveness. “The takeaway here is awareness of Doug Shaw’s vision for expanding health care in the community,” Engle said.

The project’s mission statement is “To restore community vitality and relationships by creating an essential core of well-being, medical and educational offerings in a visually stunning landscape that is environmentally grounded.”

Mike Nelson, planning director at Eureka’s LACO Associates is managing the project, while designer Julian Berg is detailing the plans. He said the public will have multiple opportunities to comment on the project during Planning Commission and City Council meetings. But those are probably a year or so off. MRCH officials note that the City of Arcata’s support for the project is crucial for its success.

Once all permissions have been obtained, buildout will take several years. Nelson said the first elements to appear will likely be the hospital expansion, Open Door clinic and NPA. “Those would be the frontrunners,” he said.

Funding for the massive project will come from a variety of sources, including grants and possibly redevelopment funds. Given uncertainties as to its final shape and composition, Nelson said it’s not possible to put a figure on the overall project.

The view from Open Door

Open Door CEO Hermann Spetzler previews the Wellnesss Capus. KLH | Eye

At the annual meeting of Open Door Community Health Centers (ODCHC) in its Ninth Street offices, CEO Hermann Spetzler ended a year-in-review presentation with brief remarks on the Wellness Campus of which ODCHC will be a key part.

“It’s a really nice, well laid-out concept,” he said.

With ODCHC building a new headquarters in Eureka, to open next year, it is anticipating major shifts in staffing locations and patient tratment from its existing North Coast facilities. How all that shakes out will help shape the clinic’s participation in the Wellness Campus.

“I think we’re five years out from this being built, and about two years from knowing the right size for the ODCHC component],” Spetzler said. “We should be able to take our three clinics – Arcata, McKinleyville and North Country Clinic – and fold them in.”

Spetzler said that medical care itself consitutes “about 10 percent of what it takes to be healthy.” The majority of personal wellness stems from a healthy lifestyle, and the new Wellness Campus is designed around exactly that.

“It’s an exciting, ambitious new medical home,” he said. “We’re in the re-engineering stage of creating a new health care model.”

Still more

In addition to the Wellness Campus, MRCH is reaching out to the community by opening satellite medical offices in Arcata.

A new Occupational Health Center at 14th and F streets will provide outpatient treatment, sports medicine, and well-child services, plus verification of Workmen’s Comp claims.

The Arcata CommunityLife Medical Center, located at 1318 H St. in the former offices of Drs. Ann Lindsay and Alan Glaseroff, providing primary care for families.

Mad River Rehabilitation Clinic has been relocated to 1703 Giuntoli Lane, Suite A.