Enloe lets go of ego

For more than two years, Enloe Medical Center has been planning an $85 million expansion that would double its size and, almost as an afterthought, calling meetings to let residents in the Avenues know what was going to happen in their historic Chico neighborhood. Feedback was half-heartedly requested and for the most part ignored. Hospital leaders made vague assertions that the expansion would not hurt the neighborhood and might even help it by addressing traffic problems. It was an arrogant way to go about a project that would affect the entire community and a PR blunder to say the least.

Last week, a charrette—a participatory public design meeting—opened the planning process and went a long way toward removing the bad taste from neighbors’ mouths. By the time the final drawings were unveiled, Enloe Chief Operating Officer Dan Neumeister was calling the new design “better” than the one Enloe-hired architects had devised.

Instead of closing Magnolia Avenue, building two parking structures and butting huge, industrial boxes up against a residential neighborhood, the design shows a Magnolia that loops easily around the new hospital tower, only one parking structure and “liner buildings” that mimic the architecture of the historic homes. There’s even a park.

Let’s give the hospital credit. Its leaders could have continued to plow through the public process, taking their chances—which were probably very good—that the City Council majority would approve the project as is. Sure, Enloe was egotistical to assume its plan was the only way to go. But it took humility to agree to take a different tack this late in the game.

Some neighbors are understandably still skeptical, and many will never be happy unless the hospital builds at a different site, but when the neighbor-inspired plan was unveiled June 25, a room full of Avenues residents was undeniably impressed.

Kudos, too, to developer Tom DiGiovanni and county Supervisor Jane Dolan for serving as the go-betweens to bring the two sides together.

Chico needs a bigger, better hospital to meet future health care needs. But it also needs to honor the heritage and character of the neighborhood Enloe has shared since 1917.