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Hospital Task Force Forum Will Continue Expansion Discussion

Matthew Hersh

The Princeton Health Care Task Force will continue its discussion tonight on the possibilities of on-site expansion at its Witherspoon Street campus.

The discussion is a continuation of the November 11 meeting that raised more than a few eyebrows when task force members examined what exactly would have to be done if the community were to want the University Medical Center at Princeton to continue its residence at 253 Witherspoon Street.

"It's gotten to the point where it's really interesting," said Marvin Reed, task force chairman. After three public forums, "quite a public process" has been mobilized, generating possibilities as far as what Princeton HealthCare System would have to do to provide itself with immediate upgrades, in addition to creating an environment that would provide for improvements and expansion 50 and 100 years down the road.

But after an independent consultant from Boston University provided findings for the hospital that were widely read as encouragement to find a unified PHCS campus outside of town, the task force felt that it should expand the discussion to include the possibility of an in-town, urban hospital.

The task force, which is composed of Borough and Township planning, zoning, and elected officials, has not endorsed a plan nor has it provided any indication as to what plan it would endorse.

But Mr. Reed did say that the discussion would not be complete without exploring all sides of the issue, including that of keeping the hospital in town.

"What needs to be done simply to maintain the current level of service at this location would require a certain amount of expansion," he said.

Those expansion possibilities have proven sobering for some residents of the hospital neighborhood. Discussion thus far has focused on not only replacing existing buildings on-site, but possible expansion across Witherspoon Street, Franklin and Henry avenues, and occupying hospital-owned residences on the southern end of Harris Road.

Even if the hospital were to modernize its facility only to adhere to current standards and code, it would require a certain level of expansion, Mr. Reed said at Thursday night's Regional Planning Board meeting.

He said the task force discussed expansion on three levels: immediate modernization taking the hospital into the year 2010; -expansion accommodating the hospital from 2010 to 2025; and how the hospital would sustain a competitive, on-site facility beyond that date.

Mr. Reed added that if there is a "sentiment" that indicates the hospital were not able to stay on-site, "then we'd be looking at the minimum amount of expansion that would be tolerated" so the hospital could function at its current location while it builds a new campus.

But Mr. Reed warned that hospital trustees may not view a minimum, on-site expansion as cost-effective if the facility ends up moving to an alternative location at some point in the future.

"That still remains to be seen," he said.

Tonight's forum will also explore additional uses for the Merwick site off Bayard Lane. That discussion, Mr. Reed said, may include alternative development for residential housing; a continuing care retirement community; institutional development, such as for University graduate or faculty use; mixed-use development; or a hotel/conference center.

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