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Gold Cross Ambulance building clears first hurdle

Mayo Clinic’s plan for a new facility for Albert Lea Gold Cross Ambulance came one step closer to reality on Tuesday night.

The Albert Lea Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit for Gold Cross Ambulance to construct an approximately $2.2 million, 8,100-square foot facility on the campus of Mayo Clinic Health System near Central Park. The facility, at 109 West Ave., would house office and training space, crew quarters and ambulance space.

Ten to 11 parking spaces on West Avenue would be eliminated due to the new facility.

The plan will come before the Albert Lea City Council on March 27 for final approval. If approval is secured, Gold Cross officials hope to begin construction on the facility this spring, and completion is planned for the fall.

Planning Commission member Pam Schmidt, who lives close to the planned site, said she supports the project.

“I really feel it is a necessity to our community,” she said.

In a public forum before the vote, supporters and detractors of the proposal discussed their positions.

Lynne Boyer, of 512 Water St.,  presented a petition with 18 signatures opposing the plan. According to Boyer, the site would interfere with the community’s use of Central Park for school events, parades and other activities.

She also expressed concern that the site would lead to safety concerns for people who attend church in the area.

The project is Gold Cross’ largest project in Minnesota and Wisconsin, said Kristofer Keltgen, Gold Cross regional manager of operations.

“We could not have picked a better location to have it placed to respond to calls,” he said.

Keltgen discussed the inefficiencies of having four separate locations for Gold Cross operations in Albert Lea.

Ambulance operations are in the emergency department at the hospital. Office space for Gold Cross is in another building on campus, and meeting and training space is at the former Bonnerup Funeral & Cremation Service. Garage space for Gold Cross is provided by a private party.

“That’s very complex in terms of trying to coordinate responses,” he said.

Gold Cross Ambulance responds to about 4,000 calls per year in Albert Lea and has 18 full-time workers in the community. The project will help with an expected staffing increase and a growth in call volumes, Keltgen said.

City Planner Molly Patterson-Lundgren said the facility will likely not have an immediate tax effect on local residents. According to Patterson-Lundgren, the building will not increase ambulance noise in the area, but shift the noise south.

According to Keltgen, co-locating the Albert Lea Fire Department and Gold Cross Ambulance is not a viable option because of differing timelines for the projects. The Fire Department’s proposed new location is not in alignment with the need for a central location for Gold Cross, Keltgen said.

Pauline Johnson, who lives on Water Street, said she supports the project.

“I want to welcome them if they come,” she said.

David McPherson, of 502 Water St., said he was concerned about congestion in the area.

Jane Maiden, of 317 Park Ave., also expressed concern about safety in the area due to local churches and the neighborhood’s elderly population.

“I’m not against progress,” she said. “I’m not against the facility, because I think there is a need. But I just don’t feel, in my heart, that this a wise choice of a selection for an ambulance (building).”

Though Planning Commission Chairman Jon Murray said he supported the project, he suggested Gold Cross incorporate a design that matches well with the neighborhood.

Keltgen said to match the neighborhood, the structure will have about four feet of brick around the building. Steel siding and asphalt shingles are planned.

Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Randy Kehr said he supports the project because it provides greater safety and efficiency for Gold Cross Ambulance. An increase in the city’s tax base and job growth from construction will also benefit the community, he said.

According to Kehr, the project shows the company’s commitment to Albert Lea.

After approval, Keltgen said he planned to attend Monday night’s meeting.

“We think it’s good for the community, and we feel that the Planning Commission seems to endorse the project, so we are cautiously optimistic,” he said. “We will be at the council meeting, and if there are any questions there, we will be prepared to do the best we can to answer any questions they might have.”

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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