Boise & Garden City

St. Luke's moves toward construction of Boise hospital expansion

Jefferson Street would be closed from the intersection with Avenue B to First Street.
Jefferson Street would be closed from the intersection with Avenue B to First Street. kjones@idahostatesman.com

After more than a year of open houses, public hearings and frustrated neighbors, St. Luke’s Health System has won approval for an expansion of its Downtown Boise campus.

Sometime soon, St. Luke’s will file applications for the first phase of work, likely beginning with the Children’s Pavilion, an outpatient clinical facility for pediatric work that will connect to the existing hospital building by a skywalk over Avenue B. The hospital group says it will phase in the $400 million project — one of Boise’s biggest in recent memory — over the next decade, affecting traffic flow, bike routes, sight lines and the biggest sequoia tree in Idaho.

Though the expansion’s broad concept has been approved, St. Luke’s is working through finer details with city planners and the oversight of the City Council, planning director Hal Simmons said. Council members will give feedback on what they’d like to see or avoid, and St. Luke’s officials say they will hold a series of open houses and other outreach events as construction nears.

The government review of this project hasn’t ended yet, either. Each phase of the project will bring a new round of public hearings as the city of Boise’s various boards, including Planning and Zoning, Design Review and the council, consider applications for things such as building designs, height exceptions and setback variances, Simmons said.

Here’s an up-close look at some of the major changes in store on and around the St. Luke’s Downtown Boise campus:

JEFFERSON STREET

The proposed closure of Jefferson between Avenue B and 1st Street was easily the most hotly contested feature of the St. Luke’s application. It allows the construction of a new building on top of what is now Jefferson Street, just north of the existing main hospital building.

St. Luke’s leaders said Jefferson is a necessary sacrifice that will enable the hospital to locate a variety of related services on the same floor — an enhancement they say will save time when treating patients and avoid the stress of moving long distances or changing floors.

Before its closes Jefferson, St. Luke’s must take steps to make traffic flow more smoothly and safely.

But the future closure, approved a week ago by Ada County Highway District, the governing body that controls public roads throughout the county, infuriates people who walk, bike or drive on that section of the street. People who live nearby, particularly East End Neighborhood residents, say Jefferson is a vital connection between Downtown and their homes.

BANNOCK STREET

The future of Bannock Street between Avenue A and 1st Street is a work in progress, perhaps more so than any other aspect of the St. Luke’s expansion.

That stretch of Bannock was closed in the 1990s following a St. Luke’s expansion request. When they approved the hospital’s latest expansion last July, City Council members attached a condition requiring St. Luke’s to give up a 28-foot-wide easement on the former street.

Council members said they wanted planners and St. Luke’s to look for a way to reopen Bannock to cars. That doesn’t look likely now. The council could insist on reopening Bannock, Simmons said, but even if it did, Ada County Highway District might not allow it. The working plan is to install a 10-foot-wide path for bicyclists and pedestrians that uses paint and other cues to communicate a few crossing points. The idea is to limit cross traffic and give preference to through traffic.

Neighbors had hoped Bannock would reopen as a full-service street to mitigate the loss of Jefferson.

TRANSPORTATION CHANGES

The most talked-about addition to St. Luke’s plans is a 10-foot-wide, two-way bicycle track that wraps around the campus. Other changes include new sidewalks, landscaping, bike lanes on Avenue B and Fort Street and roundabouts at the Fort Street-Reserve Street and Fort Street-3rd Street-Robbins Road intersections.

St. Luke’s must finish all of these changes before Jefferson Street is closed. That could take years.

The changes to roadways will be expensive, too. Between the two-way cycle track around the Downtown hospital, new roundabouts, sidewalks, the purchase of the land under Jefferson Street and other changes, St. Luke’s is looking at a total bill of around $11 million. The hospital group is eligible for reimbursement of about $4.5 million of that money from Ada County Highway District.

Besides reducing the impact of closing Jefferson and building a bigger hospital, these transportation changes are meant to help traffic flow more smoothly and safely in Downtown’s northeast corner. Everyone’s hoping it works, because traffic experts predict the number of cars traveling on Avenue B next to the hospital will roughly double over the next 20 years.

SEQUOIA TREE

One under-the-radar detail of the St. Luke’s project has been some people’s concern about the tallest giant sequoia tree in Idaho, which is growing north of Jefferson Street and southwest of Fort Street.

The expansion of the main hospital building will consume the piece of land where the 89-foot sequoia is located. The plan is to save the tree by digging it up and moving it to a city park. The most obvious location is Fort Boise Park just across Fort Street. Boise city forester Brian Jorgenson said moving big trees is common all over the world, and the process is often successful.

I’m real hopeful, and I know that Boise is pretty close to this tree and wants to see it saved. And I’m excited to have some part in that. But at the same time, I’m glad I’m not the one doing it.

Boise city forester Brian Jorgenson on the giant sequoia St. Luke’s hopes to move to a city park

Jorgenson said his department hasn’t conducted a thorough analysis of the soil and other factors at Fort Boise Park to find out if it’s a good relocation candidate.

“If that’s a suitable site, it seems to me the most obvious selection,” Jorgenson said. “Still close to home — its original home. But we don’t have a specific spot in that park picked out yet.”

BUILDINGS

The St. Luke’s master plan anticipates the first step in the Downtown expansion will be the Children’s Pavilion. Next up would be the central plant — essentially a giant mechanical room — and the shipping and receiving building.

The hospital group could submit applications as early as this summer, spokeswoman Amy Stahl said.

The main building’s expansion will have to wait because it will be built on top of what is now Jefferson Street. The master plan estimates a start date for that project at three to five years out.

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