Witherspoon Street Would Only Present 'Limited Opportunities' for a New Hospital
The hospital continued to explore the options for expansion last Thursday when it examined the possibility of building on the site of its current facility at 253 Witherspoon Street.
At the end of the day, however, the forum appeared to make a strong case for a new, out-of-town facility.
During the second of three public forums at Township Hall, hospital representatives speculated about what a "built-up" facility on Witherspoon Street would look like. They relied on the information put forth in the hospital's recently-released strategic plan; a testimonial from Jan Bishop, managing principal of the Health, Wellness, and Life Care Studio at the Hillier Group, an architectural firm; the findings of a study carried out by Alan Sager, an independent research specialist in urban hospital studies at Boston University; and community feedback.
The hospital has stated it would cost between $180-190 million, excluding land acquisition cost, to meet the needs of building on site. In his presentation two weeks ago, Prof. Sager suggested that adding to the the hospital's current site would ultimately prove cost ineffective and would essentially preclude further expansion once initial construction was completed, thus limiting the hospital's future prospects.
Barry Rabner, president and CEO of Princeton HealthCare System, said to expand would give the hospital the option of future "depth" in programs without necessarily committing it to a laundry list of new services.
"We're not talking about creating a trauma center, we're not talking about doing heart transplants, liver transplants, or kidney transplants. I can't even go through the list of things we're not going to do."
Perhaps the most striking testimony offered this past Thursday was that of Jan Bishop of Hillier when addressing the possibility of expanding services at 253 Witherspoon.
"What needs to be able to occur is the next phase: the older buildings need to come down, not tomorrow, but certainly 10, 15, 20 years from now. Again, we have no place to build. The hospital can't stop operations, patients can't go elsewhere," she said. "We're not going to close that window and not provide that service."
The major problem with staying on site, Ms. Bishop added, was there is "no place to go in the future."
Building on the hospital's current facility is the more "expensive approach,"
"Health care construction doesn't stop with one project. [It] has to be able to add on that next wing for cancer care, a wing for the new technology."
The hospital, Ms. Bishop said, would have to build a 13-floor facility to accommodate the objectives set forth in the strategic plan.
What would have to be done to enable the hospital to stay on site? Ms. Bishop cited a "take off the blinders" approach that included sweeping changes to the landscape of the lower portion of Witherspoon Street through the installation of tunnels and bridges, and closing a portion of Franklin Avenue between Witherspoon Street and Harris Road for further expansion. Even if the hospital were to take those initiatives, Ms. Bishop explained, they would only present "limited opportunities."
"As we looked at [that plan], we said 'yes, it can be done,' but our professional opinion is that it's not the right approach to take."
The next forum is set for November 11 at 7:30 p.m. at Township Hall. That presentation will look at alternative uses for the current hospital site and Merwick. According to Mr. Rabner, Princeton University has continued to express interest in acquiring those sites, possibly for graduate housing.