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Agreement reached

Palomar Pomerado, city to hammer out details of new $531 million hospital

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After months of wrangling, the city and Palomar Pomerado Health System reached an accord this week to bring a new $531 million, 535-bed hospital campus into the Escondido Research and Technology Park, but mountains of paperwork and fund-raising dollars will be needed to realize the plan.

The accord came after the hospital system agreed to do some, but not all, of the street improvements around the project, which is located southwest of the Interstate 15 and Highway 78 interchange.

When asked about the accord, district spokesman Gustavo Friederichsen said there are still particulars to be hammered out.

"We're not obligated to fully fund the improvements. You can't just throw unlimited dollars to expand a roadway. You're not talking thousands of dollars, you're talking millions," Friederichsen said.

Although the street improvements are still being negotiated, they are expected to include an interchange at Nordahl and Highway 78 and an extension of Citracado Parkway on either side of the technology park. The city has projected this work will cost about $26 million, but much will depend on the price of asphalt, cement and steel when the work gets under way.

All may not be resolved, but Friederichsen said by agreeing to allow Palomar Pomerado to build the new project in the business park, it ensured the hospital would remain in the city where it could serve the most residents. Some council members had expressed concern that the hospital would not only generate traffic, but also would gobble up valuable acreage in the business park.

"I firmly believed the issue would be resolved because health care is vital." Friederichsen said, before adding that the business park may not have attracted tenants as quickly as Escondido and developer James McCann would have liked. Neither city qualified officials nor McCann could be reached for comment Thursday.

While the city and Palomar Pomerado appear to have reached an understanding, there is an enormous amount of work left to be done if the eventual 800,000-square-foot hospital is built.

The facility is being designed for a pediatric unit and 12 operating rooms, but given the long lead times, even these plans are very much in flux.

By any measure, it will be a long road. As explained by Friederichsen, not only does Palomar Pomerado need to approve an environmental impact report, it also must obtain the green light from the state's Office of Statewide Health Planning & Development (OSHPOD)

Given that OSHPOD approvals take anywhere from 18 to 24 months, Friederichsen said it will probably be at least two years before the project can even break ground. Allowing for contingencies, that probably means the new complex won't be up before 2010.

"The CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) process is going on right now," Friederichsen said.

The new hospital is not the only component of a $753 million expansion effort.

The work, which is being financed in large part by a $496 million bond measure known as Proposition BB approved by Escondido voters last November, also calls for the upgrade of the existing Palomar Hospital in Escondido and Pomerado Hospital in Poway.

"We're looking at possibly having a mixed-use campus at Palomar," Friederichsen said.

The refurbished facility would have an urgent care facility, a rehabilitation center and behavioral health center, and all the administrative functions of the health system that may or may not transfer to the new facility.

The Palomar upgrade, which would also bring the hospital up to seismic and Americans with Disabilities Act standards, is projected to cost $72 million to complete.

"That hospital is more than 50 years old," Friederichsen explained.

Some very big plans are also in the works at PPH's Pomerado Hospital, which was built in 1977. Plans there call for a $139 million expansion and upgrade that would increase the bed count from 107 to more than 200.

"No other hospital district in the state is going through what we're going through to the degree that we are," Friederichsen said.

When asked how Palomar Pomerado will make up a $256 million shortfall in its capital improvement plan, Friederichsen said there is no single answer.

Revenue bonds will help, but the largest chunk of money is expected to come from a major capital campaign that could take years to complete.

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