Ministry plans expansion, neighbors not thrilled about more construction
Ministry St. Michael’s Hospital sought approval from the Stevens Point Plan Commission of a conditional-use permit Monday, Aug. 1, for expansion of its oncology department, but neighborhood residents weren’t pleased at the idea of potentially two more years of heavy construction.
The proposed one-story, 6,600-square-foot expansion is planned for the northeast side of the current building and will house an expanded oncology unit for St. Michael’s Hospital patients.
In previous years, St. Michael’s had been partnered with the Marshfield Clinic for oncology services and care.
However, after the two organizations separated and the Marshfield Clinic announced an addition of its own oncology unit to its recently-constructed Stevens Point campus on Highway 66 near the Municipal Airport, Ministry made the decision to expand its oncology department to continue to be able to provide care to its cancer patients.
St. Michael’s announced its tentative plan for expansion last year and asked the Stevens Point Plan Commission for input on what it would like to see, or not see, in the possible expansion. After taking the Commission’s input into consideration, Ministry developed a plan draft and presented it back to the Commission during its Aug. 1 meeting.
While neighbors of St. Michael’s didn’t express a lot of reservations with the hospital expanding its oncology department specifically, several expressed they were not excited about potentially two more years of heavy construction in their neighborhood, especially since St. Michael’s is just now wrapping up phase two (of three) on an expansion to its emergency department on the south end of the campus.
“They’ve been under construction for pretty close to three years at this point, continuously. The emergency room obviously got a big bump when the project first came up, but now they’re building a hallway along the east side of the building and that’s been taking another year and a half or so,” said Gregg Warren, a hospital neighbor on Jersey Street.
“As neighbors, we’ve been subjected to almost continuous noise. At times they’re starting as early as 5-5:15 in the morning,” Warren said.
“We’ve kind of begun to call St. Michael’s ‘Our Lady of Perpetual Construction,’” Warren joked.
When the heavy trucks and machinery come in to work, entire houses in the neighborhood will shake all day long, he said. Several neighbors in the audience of the meeting nodded in agreement.
“So, I guess one thing that I’d like to see is some sort of restrictions or monitoring of this construction site to make sure that they’re not starting any earlier than 7 o’clock in the morning and are actively monitored by the city,” Warren said.
Residents also said the neighborhood’s streets get very congested when construction crews are working and trucks come and go, and traffic flow is often impeded.
“As far as traffic flow, I’m very concerned about that because there’s going to be trucks parked right outside of my house, backing up into my driveway and God knows what else. So, I’m concerned about that, but I know lots of my neighbors have had to deal with that for quite some time too,” said another Illinois Avenue resident who did not sign in to the Plan Commission’s attendance sheet for name verification.
“Two things: I don’t like the idea of changing the walk between me and the church because I’m very active in the church and, eventually, I’d like to be able to walk there – I still can’t (due to an illness), my walking isn’t that good – but I want to be able to walk to church so anything you do to make it harder for me to walk that way I will not be in favor of, but I can see that it has to be done so I’ll put up with it,” said MaryAnn Powell, a Prais Street resident for 79 years.
“Also, backing up from my driveway – I like to go to Mass in the morning – sometimes early in the morning there are big trucks there already and it’s hard to get out of my driveway,” Powell said. “In the winter, it’s really, really bad. I’m just afraid I’m going to slide out into one of those trucks sometime.”
To help alleviate the neighbors’ concerns about the construction process, the Plan Commission approved the conditional-use and added two more recommendations for the permit. First, construction crews can only work from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Second, no construction vehicle can park on Prais Street, Illinois Avenue or Jersey Street.
Parking will be shifted to the ramp area on the south end of the hospital after the emergency room addition is completed and employees and patients will be able to utilize it instead of parking on the street, said Cherrie Pavelec-Marti, vice president of operations at St. Michael’s Hospital.
Pavelec-Marti said Ministry has also partnered with the city for parking issues. The city has allowed crews to park in the former Mid-State Technical College building’s parking lot by permit only.
Pending state approval, Ministry plans to start construction in October or November and the project should be completed by September 2017, she said.
Regular parking after construction has been completed was also mentioned as a concern because the hospital will lose stalls, and neighbors said they are worried the problem of employees parking on the street will get worse.
“I share some of the same concerns as my neighbors … parking is one. Even though they say there is ample parking, I never have parking on Jersey Street,” said Jean Lacke, an Illinois Avenue resident. “There are employees who park there now, there are construction workers who park there. I called the Police Department because it’s a two-hour parking area, and they sent someone down but everyone plays ‘musical vehicles.’ Every hour and 15 minutes, the first car moves to the back and the second moves to the front and the third one moves to the second. It’s like they set their watches to do this.”
“One of the questions that came up was parking stalls, with the proposed cancer center addition, they will lose approximately 47 permanent stalls,” said Michael Ostrowski, director of Community Development. “There are going to be some stalls lost during the construction that will be replaced when the building is operational, but overall they’ll lose about 47 stalls.”
Ostrowski said given their zoning and conditional-use statistics, they are required to have at least 381 parking stalls. After the addition is completed, the hospital will still have 668 stalls remaining.
However, Pavelec-Marti said the hospital is equally concerned about employees parking on the streets and have started a shuttling program for employees to better utilize an off-site parking lot.