St. Luke's plans major expansion in Downtown Boise

Idaho StatesmanMay 7, 2014 

St. Luke’s has long eyed an expansion of its flagship hospital, which includes cancer and pediatric specialty centers. It unveiled a master plan Wednesday that would add buildings Downtown and close part of an adjacent street.

What are the plans?

The 399-bed hospital, St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center, will stretch to a few blocks where the system owns property near its main campus.

- An expansion to the north. The plans show a new building and a landscaped area over what’s now a segment of Jefferson Street that runs behind the main hospital. St. Luke’s wants to close that portion of Jefferson.

St. Luke’s will tear down structures now on that block, including a building that houses a clinic for the Family Medicine Residency of Idaho. St. Luke’s doesn’t yet know what will happen to that clinic, spokesman Ken Dey said.

The addition would include 60 inpatient beds, an area for laboratory and medical imaging services, and additional outpatient, cardiac and critical-care space.

- A new ambulance circle. This would go in north of the main hospital, where Fort Street turns into Avenue B.

- A sky bridge. This would cross Avenue B to connect the hospital to a Children’s Pavilion, which St. Luke’s would build to replace a medical building it bought several years ago.

The St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital, which is part of the main hospital, is “bursting at the seams,” so moving some pediatric care to a new building will ease crowding, Dey said.

The pavilion would have doctors’ offices and possibly an auditorium for children’s entertainment and speakers. It would have three levels of underground parking.

- A central plant with a parking garage. On a block northwest of St. Luke’s main campus, the health system owns a slew of properties, where it now houses some of its programs. But St. Luke’s wants to put a new central plant — where things such as air conditioning happen — and a parking garage on that block.

St. Luke’s would move houses, if they’re historic or have value to the community, or tear them down.

- A walkway over 1st Street. The plans show a passageway just north of Jefferson Street, connecting the new parking garage with the hospital’s northern addition. Dey said there aren’t plans to close traffic on that street; the garage likely will span the street.

- A new building to take and make deliveries. St. Luke’s would construct a shipping-and-receiving building just south of the new parking garage and central plant.

- A medical building to the south. At some point, St. Luke’s might construct an office building on the south side of Main Street just west of Broadway Avenue.

As construction happens, St. Luke’s expects to move some offices into temporary locations in a strip mall on Broadway Avenue south of the hospital. St. Luke’s is a master lease holder for that mall, which is mostly vacant now.

When will this happen?

“This is not a ‘single project’ proposal, but a multigenerational development plan that will occur in phases over the next decades,” St. Luke’s says.

There is neither a groundbreaking date nor a construction timeline yet. That’s because the health system must go through the permitting process with the city of Boise and the Ada County Highway District.

St. Luke’s decided to announce the project now to coincide with the city’s development of its own master plan.

“We want to give them a pretty good idea of what we have in mind at this point,” Dey said.

The system began a series of meetings with stakeholders in October, according to Theresa McLeod, community relations director for St. Luke’s. It shared its conceptual plans with local business stakeholders, homeowners associations, government agencies and neighbors such as the Boise VA Medical Center.

St. Luke’s also held open houses in the community to gather feedback.

The meetings have helped guide plans for parking and how to prevent traffic snarls in the area, McLeod said.

Dey said a meeting with the East End Neighborhood Association — which had its annual meeting Wednesday night — turned up “a mix” of reactions from East End residents to the idea of closing part of Jefferson Street.

How would St. Luke’s pay for it?

The health system has estimated a cost of $300 million to $400 million. It includes not only the construction costs but also the spending that goes into making sure everything is up to code for a modern hospital.

“There’s a lot in the existing hospital that needs to be upgraded,” Dey said.

St. Luke’s plans to fund the project with its own cash, donations and bond debt, which generally is repaid with revenues from services.

“Philanthropy is definitely going to play a big role,” Dey said.

One of the “challenges” cited in a 2012 credit rating report of St. Luke’s by Moody’s Investors Service was the amount of debt the hospital system is carrying.

At the time of the report, St. Luke’s was issuing $75 million in bonds. Moody’s said those bonds would “stress St. Luke’s already somewhat unfavorable debt measures” and warned that the bonds’ high credit rating could be downgraded “in the event of a significant drop in operating performance, material investment losses or additional debt.”

But Dey noted that the system is in the very earliest stages of planning, including for how to fund the projects.

The money is “something we won’t (spend) all at once,” he said, and St. Luke’s will work through every aspect of the project step by step after the master plan is approved.

Why is this necessary?

The health system says it needs more space — 680,000 square feet — by the year 2030, as the Treasure Valley’s population grows. That’s about 56 percent more space than St. Luke’s had in 2012.

“The people in our communities deserve high-quality health care, including state-of-the-art technology and facilities, and the high-caliber medical professionals who are drawn to them,” the health system said on a website announcing the plans.

“Over the past 15 years, we’ve invested in new facilities in Ketchum, Meridian, Eagle, Twin Falls, Nampa and Fruitland. Now it’s Boise’s turn.”

Officials say some of the system’s departments are already filled to capacity.

The average daily census for the Boise hospital is 310 — about 78 percent of its beds — according to the American Hospital Directory. But on some days, the main hospital is “just running out of beds,” and growth projections show an even greater need, Dey said.

Audrey Dutton: 377-6448, Twitter: @IDS_Audrey

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