ALMC breaks ground

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 3, 2006

By Adam Hammer, staff writer

Albert Lea Medical Center staff as well as members of the city of Albert Lea and of Mayo Clinic in Rochester broke ground Friday marking the start of ALMC&8217;s major expansion project at their main campus.

&8220;The Mayo health system has a strong commitment to the needs of patients being served locally,&8221; Donnis Lassig, Mayo Liaison to ALMC said. &8220;We think that Albert Lea is going to have an enhanced ability to meet those needs now for both this community and throughout the surrounding area.&8221;

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This isn&8217;t the first time ground has been broken on the medical center&8217;s front lawn. Naeve Hospital was built on the campus site in 1911 with expansions in 1974 and as recently as 1997.

&8220;All of those projects have been undertaken and completed with the expectation that we can improve the health care in Albert Lea,&8221; Dr. Mark Ciota, CEO of ALMC said during the ground-breaking ceremony Friday. &8220;This current project will further the health care opportunities that we have in our own home town.&8221;

The current expansion project will add two floors to the top of the clinic building and expand the front lobby out to where the flagpole now stands. The project should be completed in 2008 and equals a 40 percent increase in patient services on the main campus. It carries an estimated price tag of $19 million.

The new lobby will house retail services such as the outpatient pharmacy, Vision Plus, the gift shop, coffee shop, Durable Medical Equipment and Specialty Fittings. The expansion off the front of the building will also centralize patient support services such as patient education and cultural services near the lobby.

The number of exam rooms will be increased and current services such as family practice, internal medicine, OB/GYN and ophthalmology will be expanded.

New specialties such as cardiology, neurology and pulmonology will be added to the list of already available services.

Since 1996, the Mayo health system has invested $340 million in projects, similar to the Albert Lea expansion, in rural Minnesota, Lassig said. In addition, they have also nearly doubled the number of physicians available for rural health care.

&8220;We think that this project is another way to demonstrate the importance of rural health care,&8221; Lassig said.

Mayor Aaron Summers said he is anticipating the expansion will help the entire city of Albert Lea to bring new growth to the community and thanked ALMC for being a good neighbor. The expansion will make way for about 80 new jobs at ALMC and could help create more new jobs throughout the community.

&8220;New people, new jobs, homes, children. Growth, prosperity, that&8217;s what we&8217;re all looking for. That&8217;s what we&8217;re all about with the city of Albert Lea,&8221; Summers said.

Summers said he hopes the expansion will help motivate rebuilding projects in the city&8217;s downtown district.

&8220;By adding 130 new jobs to the community, people are going to be looking for places to shop, eat and for entertainment and I hope to see some real revitalization in our downtown area,&8221; Summers said.

ALMC has been seeking approval for the project from Mayo and the city of Albert Lea since May and received their final approval from the city Aug. 28 by a council vote of 6-0.

&8220;I think it helps our whole city out when the medical center is expanding,&8221; Bob Anderson, a resident of Albert Lea, said. &8220;It helps bring more people in.&8221;

The public will likely see construction trailers moving in later this week and heavy machinery next week, Clinic Administrator Ginny Larson said.

Larson has been overseeing much of the plans for the expansion along with Dr. Tim Kozelsky, a Mayo clinic radiation oncologist who works in Albert Lea.

The Water Street parking lot, which opened to staff parking on July 17, will play a role as a staging area for construction equipment and trailers. The lot will remain unpaved until the construction is completed so not to damage new paving.

When construction is completed, the Water Street lot will be for staff parking only and the center&8217;s current south lot on Fountain Street will become patient parking.

Dr. Tim Myers, president of Naeve Health Care Foundation, said he was happy to see ALMC representing and partnering with the community on the expansion project.

Many prominent public and political figures were in attendance at the ground-breaking ceremony including Rep. Gil Gutknecht, R-Minn., who is running for re-election against DFL candidate Tim Walz.

&8220;In many respects what we are doing here today is giving birth to a new baby,&8221; Gutknecht said, referring to the words of poet Carl Sandburg. &8220;It&8217;s a baby that people have been thinking about and working on for a number of years.&8221;

Participants in the ceremonial ground breaking included Ciota, Larson, Kozelsky, Myers, Lassig, Summers, Stephen Waldoff, CAO, Dr. Leonard Shelhammer, Diane Damerow, Naeve Auxiliary co-president and Susie Peterson, Chamber of Commerce executive director.

&8220;I think they&8217;re heading in the right direction,&8221; Lorraine Scott, an Albert Lea resident, said. &8220;I&8217;m excited about this. It will help Albert Lea.&8221;