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05-17-04 Hospital seeks cure for rising costs

By Timothy Cox

  COLDWATER -- Mercer County Community Hospital officials have hired a Celina architectural firm to get a handle on construction costs after a spate of change orders inflated the price of three recent projects by as much as 10 percent.

  Fanning/Howey Associates, Celina, will be hired to oversee management of the bidding and construction of a flood mitigation project at the Community Medical Center. The move came at the urging of the hospital's board of trustees and was supported by its board of governors.
  CEO T.J. Padden called the decision "a stroke of genius" in finding a way to better control construction costs.
  Township trustees from the nine townships that make up the hospital's service area first complained about the issue at their April meeting. In his report to the board of governors, Padden described the trustees' feelings about the high number of change orders as "nothing short of anger."
  "Frankly, when you look at it as a package, the problem is appalling," Padden wrote in that same report.  Padden said there are no concerns the hospital was ripped off by any of the numerous contractors and subcontractors who have worked on recent projects.
  "Nobody is pointing a finger," Padden said. "When dealing with older buildings, new construction presents challenges. We should have planned better."
  Costs ran approximately 10 percent higher than expected on the recent $1.7 million cleanup, renovation and reconstruction of the Community Medical Medical Center, which was damaged in the 2003 Independence Day flood.
  That project proved tricky because it was not entirely clear from the beginning which parts of the building were damaged by floodwater, said Padden, who was not working for the hospital at the time. The 10 percent overrun was the worst of the change order situation, Padden said.
  In a major project he oversaw at his old CEO post at a hospital in Nebraska, Padden said change orders accounted for about 0.5 percent of the total price.
  In an ongoing renovation of the radiology department, more than $13,000 in change orders rolled in because electrical conduit was buried under a concrete slab floor and because contractors apparently were not clear they could not shut down the entire department to work. Change orders also ran too high on the cafeteria-kitchen renovation done last year, Padden said.
  "There are challenges to look at blueprints to what is there," Padden said. "But there often are differences between drawings and actuality."
  The hospital was originally built in 1950 and expanded significantly in 1974. A minor addition was added in 1982.
  Hospital officials hope bringing Fanning/Howey into the mix will dramatically improve the situation. The firm will oversee a proposed project to build a three-foot floodwall around most of the Community Medical Center building to prevent future flooding. The 25,000-square-foot building was inundated with up to three inches of bacteria-tainted water during last summer's flooding.


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