Rice is making progress on the mass renovation of its west wing

WILLMAR -- Behind the plastic-shrouded fa?ade of Rice Memorial Hospital's west wing, the outline of new rooms and hallways is starting to take shape.

WILLMAR -- Behind the plastic-shrouded fa?ade of Rice Memorial Hospital's west wing, the outline of new rooms and hallways is starting to take shape.

By the end of the summer of 2006, this section of the city-owned hospital will be renovated and ready to go back into use.

The Rice board of directors and hospital officials toured the project Wednesday to view the progress that's been made.

"Essentially it'll be a brand-new building, except for the structure that holds it up," said Lorry Massa, Rice CEO. "It'll be serviceable for the next 30 years."

The renovation is part of a massive $50 million-plus hospital expansion that began almost three years ago and won't be finished until late 2006.


A new emergency department and new main entrance opened last year; two floors of new patient rooms opened at the end of January. The overhauling of the west wing, which was built in 1972, began this past spring.

The messiest part of this phase of the project -- removing asbestos and stripping the building down to a bare exterior -- is finished, said Dave Carr, project manager with Knutson Construction.

The scaffolding and plastic that have surrounded the building will be removed in the next couple of weeks.

The next step is to enclose the building and start installing sheetrock, Carr said. With cold weather less than two months away, it'll probably be necessary to have extra workers on hand to ensure the project stays on schedule, he said. "A key timeframe is upon us now... It's probably a couple weeks off from where we want to be."

As board members toured the building, they were able to see a preview of how the space is being redesigned.

Where patient rooms used to be, there'll be renovated space for the health information systems department, the medical library and administrative offices.

The neurodiagnostics and sleep studies laboratory will be located in this wing, as will the inpatient and outpatient mental health units.

Unfinished space on the main level has been set aside for future growth in cancer care.


A couple of floors up, there's more unfinished space that's been tentatively identified as a likely site for a dental training clinic.

With more than two-thirds of the overall project now complete, Rice Hospital has spent $41.3 million, with $11 million more to go.

The main financial concern at this point is the size of the contingency fund. It has dropped below $100,000, prompting Massa to tell the board Wednesday that the fund is "for all practical purposes gone. There's not a whole lot of cushion."

If the board wants to keep the contingency fund at 5 percent, it'll be necessary to take $500,000 out of next year's capital budget to make up the difference, Massa said. "We can certainly handle that out of our capital budget but we wanted you to see what it really is."

An upgrade in plans for inpatient mental health is the main reason for the dwindling contingency fund, Massa said.

Rice officials are anticipating more need for acute mental health care, especially as Willmar Regional Treatment Center downsizes its programs. That led them to decide late last year to expand Rice's mental health department to include a locked unit -- something that wasn't in the original plan for renovating the 1972 wing.

By the time the floor plan was tweaked and finalized, the cost had gone up from $770,000 to almost $1.9 million, Massa said.

"There wasn't any way to shift gears and do something different," he said. However, some savings were realized by consolidating the new locked unit with the existing mental health department, he said, noting it would have been more expensive to locate it on a separate floor.

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