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Rice gives go-ahead to next construction phase at Rice Care Center

WILLMAR — Bids totaling $1.6 million were awarded Wednesday for the next phase of construction and renovation at the Rice Care Center.

The Rice Memorial Hospital board also voted Wednesday to authorize issuing up to $9 million in revenue bonds to finance the Rice Care Center improvements as well as renovation and new retail space for Rice Home Medical stores in Alexandria, Redwood Falls and Willmar.

Site preparation could start as soon as next month for a seven-bed addition to Therapy Suites, the Rice Care Center's short-term rehabilitation unit, said Bill Fenske, chief financial officer at Rice.

The addition is the latest in a series of major improvements to the Rice Care Center, starting with the construction of Therapy Suites two years ago and followed by extensive renovation of the Willmar nursing home's long-term care space.

Bids for the next phase of the project were lower than anticipated, Fenske said. The original estimate was $2.2 million.

"We're pleased that the bids came in lower than what we projected," Fenske said.

The bids were awarded to 14 different companies in categories ranging from site preparation, masonry and carpentry to roofing, mechanical, electrical, flooring and windows.

The hospital's investment in the Rice Care Center and Rice Home Medical is among the largest capital improvements undertaken since a $50 million-plus renovation and expansion nearly 10 years ago of the hospital itself. Hospital officials say it will strengthen Rice's ability to meet the demand for short-term rehab and long-term care and position Rice Home Medical as a dominant regional player in the retail medical equipment marketplace.

Up to $9 million worth of revenue bonds will be issued by the end of this year to finance the series of projects. The notes will include the refinancing of $3 million in bonds that were issued for the construction of the Rice Care Center Therapy Suites. A debt capacity analysis completed this summer indicated Rice can afford between $5 million and $10 million in borrowing without jeopardizing its overall financial goals.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at http://healthbeat.areavoices.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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