Hospital Board may back out of Wellness Center

By C.J. Barbre

The Lindsay Local Hospital District Board, as of the monthly meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 27, is considering backing out of an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) it signed with the City of Lindsay in December 2002.

Attorney for the board, Starr Warson wrote in his monthly report, "The MOU is attached and calls for a $1 million investment to the Wellness Center for no particular purpose. After that, there is a debt service and other costs the District agrees to accept with the City. Given the language of the MOU, it is conceivable the District could back away from the responsibilities in the agreement if it is established the defined objectives of the project are not being upheld."

He goes on to include a list of items (a) through (f), of defined objectives. (See sidebar.)

McDermont Field House

The brou-ha-ha is over the new concept for a sports facility aimed primarily at Lindsay youth. The city wants to revise the Wellness Center plans, allowing for the Wellness Center to primarily accommodate adult fitness activities plus family health care, while the long vacant packing house, formerly McDermont Fruit Co., downtown at the corner of Hermosa Street and Sweet Brier Avenue, diagonally across the intersection from the Teen Zone, would be geared to attract a large variety of youth activities including an indoor soccer field, basketball courts, weight room, aerobics, dance and even a laser tag room in the basement. It would also include an indoor track that not only goes around, but up and down, giving users a better workout and a view of all the activities within the building, which would be attractive to many adults.

The idea was borrowed from Chelsea Piers in New York City which has an incredible sports facility in former vacant ocean liner dock warehouses on the Hudson River in the Chelsea area. With the surging childhood obesity rates, members of the city council and staff readily envisioned how this concept could benefit Lindsay youth.

MOU

A front page headline in the Dec. 25, 2002 (Merry Christmas) issue of the old Lindsay Gazette stated "Hospital Board commits $1 million to Wellness Center." It had taken almost two years of negotiations with the Lindsay Hospital District Board for them to commit to that MOU. At the time, the Wellness Center was estimated to cost $5.72 million for phase-1 construction.

In the 2002 MOU, the hospital district also agreed to contribute $220,000 to debt services costs associated with the new facility and support programs, facilities, materials and support for health care and health related activities within the the district boundaries. Board Chairman Steve Boles said this would take 75% of their revenue. But, he said, when Lindsay still had a hospital, "We never saw a stich."

The City of Lindsay agreed in the MOU to contribute $200,000 annually for the operational expenses of the new facility, to apply for grant funding annually of at least $100,000 for programming costs of the new facility and $220,000 as a cash contribution to the project.

Just last month the city was awarded a $1 million grant to go to the new competitive eight-lane 25 meter swimming pool portion of the Wellness Center.

Hospital Board

The Lindsay Hospital closed in November 2000. The Hospital District Board currently has $1.64 million total cash available. The five board members, including the chairman, each receive $350 per month for their services which essentially are attending a monthly business meeting that rarely goes over one hour on the fourth Tuesday of the month in the conference room of Sierra Vista Plaza at 133 W. Honolulu St.

Chairman Boles is stepping down as he will be moving out of the district, to Tulare, as soon as his new home is finished, possibly in late November or early December. Warson said a notice has to be posted in the local paper 90 days prior to selecting a new board member. In the interim, long-time board member LaWanda Wollenman will serve as chairman, but said she does not officially want to serve in that position.

Wellness Center architectur

Last week architect Eric McConnaughey, whose company, EBM Design in Visalia, won the bid for the project, said that the final project at this point was in the $13 million price range. He said their billing, a standard 7% of the final project price, was at about $450,000 at this stage. He said, because several parties have expressed interest in housing medical offices in the newest portion of the old hospital building, which they had originally planned to demolish, EBM has been asked to put the project on hold until the city decides what it wants to do in that regard.

"There are three phases of plans beginning with schematics. The second is design development. The first two are paid for and we're in the process of the third phase or the construction documents," McConnaughey said, about the originally approved plans.

Just the concept of the Wellness Center has attracted long sought after high end housing to Lindsay according to a Dec. 30, 2004 article in the Visalia Times-Delta.

September meeting

Townsend was on the agenda for the September meeting. Townsend took the board on a tour of the packing house and explained the concept of McDermont Field House back in June. He said within six months it could be converted, and it would actually save some money (given the going price of concrete), not to mention what a fun facility for the kids to participate in wholesome and health benefitting activities, especially considering the alarming rates of childhood obesity in this area.

Townsend was unable to attend the September hospital board meeting due to a conflict with some legal business for the city.

"I don't see how we can support a fun center downtown financially," said board member Rachel Hill who is also the board treasurer.

"It seems to me we've gone away from the original concept," board member Greg McQueen agreed.

"Can the city use our money as collateral for the packing house? Wollenman asked. "Are we then actually putting money in it or not?

Warson said he would field those and other questions the board had in a letter to the city manager.

In fiscal 2003-2004 the board received $348,000 in property tax revenues and in fiscal 2004-2005 the amount was $353,000. The last published date for completion of the Wellness Center was December 2006.

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