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While county eyes new Registrar of Voters, Kaiser Permanente focuses on new hospital

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Since the 1980s, the San Diego County Registrar of Voters has called a warehouse-style building at 5201 Ruffin Road its home. That will change around the end of the year, when a new building — to be located on the campus of the 47-acre County Operations Center — will replace a facility that was never designed for election activities in the first place.

Once that transition is complete, a new destiny for the Ruffin Road property will begin to take shape under its soon-to-be owner, setting up not just a major change for the County of San Diego, but also for one of the county’s biggest health care providers, Kaiser Permanente.

While the Registrar of Voters settles into its new home in the coming years, Kaiser looks to make use of what didn’t quite fit the county’s needs.

First built in the 1970s as a general warehouse, the existing Registrar of Voters was purchased by the county in the 1980s. When the new Registrar headquarters is complete in late 2013, title to the Ruffin Road property will switch to Kaiser Permanente, which in turn plans to build its new central hospital on the site.

Kaiser spokesman Rodger Dougherty said the new hospital will be used in addition to, not in place of, Kaiser Permanente’s regional workhorse, the San Diego Medical Center on Zion Avenue in Grantville. From 2010 to 2012, Kaiser invested upwards of $300 million in that facility to ensure its quality of care through 2030, while at the same time increasing its previous 392-bed capacity to include a new 17-bed surgical unit and a neonatal intensive care unit.

“When the new central hospital opens, Zion will remain operational,” Dougherty said. “You can anticipate that there will be two emergency departments, one at the new facility and one still at Zion.”

The new building gives insight to Kaiser’s larger view of regional needs, especially when combined with the health care provider’s work on Zion Avenue and elsewhere in the area.

“We’re really anticipating quite a bit of expansion, both because of the health care reform environment as well as just the projected growth and the organic growth that will happen in the county,” Dougherty said.

Adding to that point, Dougherty said it should not be expected for Kaiser to use the extra real estate to simply consolidate services offered at various other Kaiser facilities in the area, such as the Garfield Specialty Center, which handles outpatient and ambulatory services.

“Right now, we’re doing the exact opposite,” Dougherty said. “We’re actually expanding our medical offices as well as our inpatient hospital services.”

Kaiser also recently opened up the fourth phase of its San Marcos medical office and expects to open its Carmel Valley medical office this summer. A planned expansion of its Oceanside facility is set to break ground this year, as well.

Though the entitlement process has a way to go before completion, work behind the scenes is ongoing in Kaiser’s planning for the Ruffin Road property, on the final design of the future hospital and in the decisions behind which of the two Kaiser hospitals will house certain services.

According to Joe Stasney, a project director within the capital projects group of Kaiser’s National Facilities Services and Kaiser’s lead construction manager on the project, it’s too early in the process to accurately estimate the project cost.

But what is known is that it will be a two-phase project, with the first phase planned to open in 2017 and bring a 560,000-square-foot facility housing 321 hospital beds.

The master plan for the new facility — being designed by the Los Angeles architectural firm CO Architects — calls for a total of 450 beds through all phases. Hensel-Phelps Construction Co. will lead construction efforts.

The draft environmental impact report for the new facility is expected to be released this spring.

Making room for Kaiser’s plans is the county’s $73.5 million project to relocate the Registrar’s office into a new and more suitable facility by year’s end.

Jeff Redlitz, a project manager in the county’s Project Management Division, said that over the years, the existing Registrar’s building has been used to house not just the Registrar of Voters, but also the county’s former Department of Planning and Land Use, the Department of General Services’ mail distribution services and some functions of the county’s Probation Department and Department of Health and Human Services.

The new Registrar headquarters is the final phase of the county’s 2008 master plan for the County Operations Center, which aimed not only to increase the county’s efficiency by minimizing the geographic spread of its many department offices, but increase its efficiency in terms of energy consumption and environmental impact. Designed by and being built by the same team to design and construct much of the already-completed operations center overhaul — including RJC Architects, developer Lowe Enterprises and building contractor Suffolk-Roel — the new Registrar location is planned to receive LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

“It’s a very long process,” Redlitz said in January. “We target a rating and then we don’t know until after the construction is complete.”

In August 2012, the county opened the latest additions under the master plan with the completion of Phase 1B in the campus redevelopment plan. With that came two new office buildings, a solar panel-topped conference center and a 1,800-space multilevel parking garage, all earning LEED status. The conference center is certified LEED Platinum, the highest distinction possible.

The overall campus redevelopment, including the Medical Examiner building, is expected to cost $349 million for what has been approved. The county has reported that the first phase of the overhaul came in under budget, allowing for the county to reinvest millions into the new Registrar headquarters.

County legislators have said the new location will “improve the workings of democracy.” District 1 Supervisor Greg Cox said at the December 2012 groundbreaking that it will compliment an electorate that’s more than ever turning to mail-in ballots, allowing sufficient space for large-scale counting and storage.

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