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Rice delays awarding of bids for new addition at care center

WILLMAR -- Rice Me-morial Hospital's board of directors was set to award bids Wednesday for a $3 million addition to the Rice Care Center.

But when bids were opened last week, the total came in about $400,000 higher than the construction estimate.

Hospital officials, the bidders, the project architect and the construction manager are now negotiating to try to bring that number down, Mike Schramm, the chief executive at Rice Hospital, told the board.

"We've started to make some progress... We're moving the numbers back in the right direction," he said.

The construction marks the first phase of a three-year project to enlarge and renovate the Rice Care Center, the hospital-owned skilled nursing facility. A special wing for residents in need of short-term rehabilitation is being built, followed by a major upgrade of the existing nursing home building.

In the initial stage, a 23-bed unit for short-term rehab will be added.

Awarding of the bids has now likely been pushed back into November, putting some pressure on the timeline for turning over the first shovelful of dirt.

Hospital officials want to start construction this fall yet, Schramm said. "We need to get into the ground fairly soon."

Bill Fenske, the hospital's chief financial officer, said there was a good response to the call for bids. But because the project is smaller than a typical 80- or 90-bed skilled care facility, the cost per square foot turned out to be higher than anticipated, he said.

Hospital officials have managed to trim about $300,000 from the project bids and hope to get the final cost to just below $3 million, Fenske said.

Meanwhile, another hospital project -- mechanical renovation of the kitchen -- is moving forward, with a board vote Wednesday to award $234,000 worth of contracts for general construction, mechanical and electrical work.

The hospital kitchen was originally slated to be redone when Rice undertook a four-year, $50 million-plus expansion and renovation that began in 2002. But cost considerations forced hospital officials to remove the kitchen from the list.

The need to do something is now growing urgent, Fenske said, citing issues with water in the ceiling and pinhole leaks in some of the pipes. The last time the hospital kitchen underwent an upgrade was back in the early 1980s.

Capital funds have been set aside for the project, Fenske said.

Anne Polta

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

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