Hospital gets state OK for surgical units

Board members gather to plunge golden shovels into the dirt in front of the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital for the groundbreaking ceremony for the Emergency Department renovation and expansion project.

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BRATTLEBORO — Brattleboro Memorial Hospital received approval Monday afternoon to break ground on its long-awaited surgical unit expansion, the Ronald Read Pavilion.

"The Project is a sizable addition to an existing hospital in a residential area," wrote the District Environmental Commission No. 2 in determining whether the project "fits" the context in which it will be located. "There will be impacts from this project both during construction and after completion on noise, lighting, and landscaping."

Therefore, notes the permit, the project will have an adverse impact.

However, after considering the town plan, open land studies, and other municipal documents "The Commission is not aware of any clear community standard that this project violates. ...This project is an addition to an existing hospital. It is not offensive or shocking."

"We are pleased that this arduous and often frustrating process has now concluded and we look forward to construction of the Ronald Read Pavilion to meet the healthcare needs of Windham County into the future," wrote BMH President & CEO Steven R. Gordon in an email to the Reformer.

The commission also accepted the findings of a noise assessment which concluded that following completion of the project, noise levels will actually be lower than existing sound levels. This is because new equipment, surrounded by acoustic barriers, will be installed, with the highest sound level being registered at 42 decibels at 45 Main St.

"The Commission also concludes that there will not be adverse health impacts from the noise associated with the project ..." states the permit.

Within one year of completion of the project, BMH will be required to send a new noise analysis to the commission for review.

The commission members are Thomas J. Fitzgerald, Julia H. Schmitz and Cheryl Cox.

The approval allows BMH to demolish the old two-story, 4,500-square-foot Pavilion Building and replace it with a new four-story, 27,875-square-foot addition. Approval came after several months of review of documents, studies and public testimony. The process started in December 2018, when BMH submitted its ACT 250 application, and was followed by a site visit and public hearing on April 10, 2019.

According to the approval all site work is to be completed by Oct. 1, 2024, but BMH hopes to break ground next spring and be done with the project in the spring of 2022.

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Any party already granted intervenor status has 30 days to appeal the decision to the Vermont Superior Court, Environmental Division, but only on the grounds granted during the hearing phase. For example, one intervenor was granted status based solely on parking, while another was granted status based on noise levels, lighting, traffic and parking, and landscaping.

The Ronald Read Pavilion will contain new operating rooms, an equipment sterilization room and offices for primary care services. The new building will be on the hospital's main campus between the Main Hospital and the Richards Building.

The $22.7 million project is being partially paid for with a $6 million bequest from Ronald Read, who died at 92 in 2014. To the surprise of many in the area, Read, a quiet, unassuming man, had amassed an $8 million fortune after investing in the stock market. To round out the cost, the hospital is borrowing $10 million and using money it has set aside for the expansion. When the new operating rooms are up and running, the old operating rooms, currently in the main hospital, will be converted into a post-op recovery area. Space will also be converted for use by the gastroenterology department.

In the permit, the commission noted that allowing the use of the Maple Street parking lot as the construction staging area "will be particularly disruptive to the Maple Street neighbors ..." thereby requiring public circulation of a construction schedule four days in advance of any out-of-the-ordinary disturbance. "We also remind the hospital to do everything possible to limit deliveries on the weekends."

Parking was another item to which the commission paid special attention.

"The Commission is concerned about the adequacy of parking both during construction and after," notes the permit.

BMH stated that to compensate for the parking spots lost to the construction staging area, it may assign additional employees to offsite parking, promote carpooling with assistance from Go! Vermont, and/or valet parking. During construction, BMH will lease parking space behind the Canal Street Burger King and shuttle construction staff to the site. Construction materials will be dropped off at this parking area and moved to the site during hours authorized by the commission. BMH is also responsible for insuring that all nursing students, radiology students, and Brattleboro Family Medicine employees park in the Leristis parking lot on Canal Street.

The expansion will house 19 new employees and have an estimated 47 patients per day, states the permit.

Currently, BMH gets approximately 3,225 vehicle trips per weekday. With the new building, an additional 200 vehicle trips per day is expected.

BMH currently has 515 sparking spaces on campus and another 46 in the Leristis parking lot. That won't be changing when construction is done.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or