Purchase agreement is OK'd for psychiatric hospital site

WILLMAR -- A purchase agreement for a two-acre site for construction of a psychiatric hospital moved forward Thursday, as the operating board of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission voted to recommend approving...

WILLMAR -- A purchase agreement for a two-acre site for construction of a psychiatric hospital moved forward Thursday, as the operating board of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission voted to recommend approving the deal.

The board's recommendation will now go before the EDC's governing board, made up jointly of representatives of the Kandiyohi County Board and the Willmar City Council.

The agreement calls for a $394,000 purchase price for the landowners, Jeff and Sue Danielson, for the site at Seventh Street Southeast and Willmar Avenue.

The operating board also has recommended hiring Bonnema Surveys to do a site survey and Braun Intertec to do soil sampling in preparation for construction.

The project is on a fast track: Local officials and the Minnesota Department of Human Services want to have the facility open by the summer of 2007.


"It is still the state's goal to high-speed this project and get it built as soon as we can," said Steve Renquist, executive director of the Economic Development Commission.

The 16-bed behavioral hospital is replacing acute psychiatric beds that will be lost with the closing of Willmar Regional Treatment Center.

It is the last of 10 facilities being built around the state.

The Economic Development Commission is financing the construction and will be the owner of the $3.4 million facility.

The plan calls for the EDC to lease the facility to Kandiyohi County, thereby taking advantage of the county's lengthy experience in leasing with the state for human services programs.

The county in turn will lease the behavioral hospital to the state for actual day-to-day operation of the psychiatric program.

Those leases are still in the process of being developed, Renquist told the operating board on Thursday.

Officials are working on several fronts to move the project forward as rapidly as possible. The Willmar Planning Commission voted this week to recommend rezoning the site. An architect, Young and Associates of Minneapolis, has been selected.


"The acquisition of the site triggers a lot of things," Renquist said.

Meanwhile, questions linger about the site selection process and the potential impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

Jim Dokken of the Willmar City Council appeared before the EDC operating board Thursday to ask why the site on Seventh Street Southeast -- the most expensive of some 20 sites that were evaluated -- was chosen.

"It certainly is not my first choice," he said.

A 60-acre state-owned site on North Highway 71 was already available, he said. "We already own that as taxpayers."

He said he wanted to see a written list of the criteria used in selecting the site.

Dokken also raised concerns about how the psychiatric facility might affect the neighbors. The nearest properties are a pair of houses to the east.

Aldean Carlson, the owner of one of the houses, said he's concerned about the potential loss to the property's value.


"It will definitely really hurt my property," he said. "It will be hard to rent, I know it will."

"I certainly understand your concern. I'm hoping it won't be an issue for you or whoever you rent to," Renquist responded. He told Carlson the facility will be secure and well staffed.

Given the increasingly commercial flavor of the area, the property is likely to gain in value, especially if it can be rezoned and sold for future commercial development, he said.

The state-owned site that was Dokken's first choice also was the EDC's first choice, Renquist said. It lacked utilities, however, which would have had to be installed at a cost estimated at up to $1 million.

It also would have precluded developing a health campus at the site -- such as a new veterans home alongside the psychiatric facility -- because federal reimbursement won't be paid to facilities classed as institutions, Renquist said.

"This has to be a stand-alone facility," he said.

Renquist said he'll obtain the written criteria from the Department of Human Services and forward the list to Dokken.

The right location was important to state officials, he said. "They've confirmed this is easily the best site, and they are willing to pay that price as part of the lease agreement."


Dokken said he's also concerned about whether the state will be able to adequately staff the facility with psychiatrists, a medical specialty that's in short supply across the state.

"Is the state in a place where they can assure us they will provide psychiatrists?" he asked. "Does the state have a psychiatrist ready for this facility in one year?"

Renquist said the Department of Human Services has said it will assign psychiatrists to staff the facility -- and has already done so at similar 16-bed psychiatric units in relatively small towns such as Wadena and Fergus Falls.

"I think it's fair that we ask that question," he said. "Clearly, without a psychiatrist this is not a licensed facility."

What To Read Next
Get Local