Neighbors question Enloe expansion

20-year plan calls for doubling size of existing medical center

FACE OFF <br>Jan Allenspach expresses her concerns at a meeting this week to air out neighbors’ anxieties about Enloe Medical Center’s plans to expand over the next two decades.

Jan Allenspach expresses her concerns at a meeting this week to air out neighbors’ anxieties about Enloe Medical Center’s plans to expand over the next two decades.

Photo by Tom Angel

The great expansion:
Enloe’s proposal calls for expanding its campus at Fifth Avenue and The Esplanade to include an additional 72 acute-care beds, seven operating rooms, 24 observation rooms, eight emergency exam rooms and a 200-stall parking garage. Plans also take care of the state requirement that all hospitals of a certain size be constructed or retrofitted by 2008 to be able to withstand a major earthquake.

Vecino neighborhood residents got a chance to comment on Enloe Medical Center’s proposed $100 million hospital expansion at a community meeting Tuesday evening, and as many as 70 people showed up at the Enloe Conference Center to voice concerns.

While hospital planners scrambled to write down their comments, about 15 people spoke in opposition to the expansion plan, saying it would cause an increase in traffic and a scarcity in parking and could ruin the quiet character of the neighborhood.

One resident complained that the hospital’s helicopter had turned his back yard into “a combat zone” and worried that a bigger hospital could mean a lower quality of life for his family. Another complained that schoolchildren couldn’t safely walk to schools in the neighborhood if there were an increase in cars zooming down Arcadian Avenue. Many also suggested the hospital take another look at building a new hospital on its Bruce Road property, an option hospital officials say was abandoned years ago as too expensive.

Enloe needs to expand, say its administrators, to keep up with Chico’s rising—and aging—population. By 2020, Chico is expected to add 40,000 new residents, and with many baby boomers getting on in years, hospital administrators are convinced they need to grow just to keep up with demand.

Hospital CEO Phil Wolfe was on hand to answer questions and try to instill confidence in Enloe’s plans.

Photo by Tom Angel

“Hospitals across the country are saying, ‘Holy moley, we’d better get prepared,'” Enloe spokeswoman Ann Prater said. “We need more acute- and critical-care beds to address the health needs of tomorrow.”

Besides beefing up its present services, Enloe hopes to include a new women’s center and move the main entrance of the hospital from Fifth Avenue to Sixth Avenue. The expansion would mean closing off Magnolia Avenue between Fifth and Sixth avenues, which administrators hope to compensate for by widening an existing alleyway between Magnolia and The Esplanade.

Before construction can begin, the hospital needs to provide the city with a full environmental-impact report (EIR) and work with city planners on rezoning and permitting the project. Prater said city officials had given encouraging signs toward the Enloe expansion because they recognize a future need for more health care services within the city. (It may not have hurt that Enloe is one of the city’s top employers, pumping about $200 million a year into the local economy.) Still, it will likely be two years before construction can even begin, and the project may take a decade or more to complete.

Neighbors of Enloe have so far not mounted any organized opposition to the project, but they have voiced a few complaints. Ed McLaughlin, a longtime neighborhood resident and vocal critic of Enloe’s helicopter flyovers, said in an earlier interview that the project would negatively affect property values, parking and traffic in the area. McLaughlin went so far as to have a list of demands published in local papers asking for, among other things, acoustic retrofitting of neighborhood homes and $10,000 per household per year in free medical coverage in exchange for community support of the project.

Addressing these demands, Prater pointed out that part of the reason Enloe administrators decided to expand in the Vecino neighborhood in the first place is because it was much cheaper than relocating to another site. The hospital drew up several feasibility studies for sites in Vecino, on Cohasset Boulevard and on Bruce Road.

“If we had all the money to address these things, we’d have enough to build a new hospital on Bruce Road," which would cost about $300 million, she said. "If someone wants to give us $300 million to build a hospital, we’ll take it. That’s why we bought [the property] in the first place."