Weems Memorial Hospital got a solid thumbs-up for its expansion plans Monday night, as Apalachicola’s planning and zoning board said it liked what it saw.
The near-unanimous approval by P & Z, with Board Member Uta Hardy objecting, limited only to her views on the extent of impervious surface area, completes an approval process by city officials that now places the decision on whether to proceed with the $10.2 million expansion entirely in the hands of the county commission, which owns the hospital and is responsible for securing sufficient financing.
Accompanied by Weems CEO Mike Cooper, the four “suits” who presented the project’s details and drawings were Joe Bynum, the architect out of the Tampa office of healthcare design firm TRO Jung | Brannen, and landscape architect, Dave Giddens; Nick Hill, from the Adams Management Services which has shaped and shepherded the project; and Dina Bautista, the engineer from Dewberry.
Hill said the thought six years ago was that it made more sense to build an entirely new patient wing, essentially replace the existing facility, because state health regulation requirements made upgrades less cost-effective.
Giddens outlined the significant points to the lot design P & Z members had in their packet, as well as on poster board. The hospital’s 18,635 square feet of new construction (it’s a few thousand square feet more when the entire canopy is considered) highlight the grounds on Avenue G, bounded by 10th and 12 streets, with the existing, more than 50-year-old, facility converted into office space.
In January, the board of adjustment approved a variance that enabled Weems to cover 54 percent of the lot, beyond what the 40 percent standard would allow.
The grounds will be a combination of pervious and impervious surfaces, with the front parking areas needing to be impervious and paved, as per the Americans for Disability Act, said Bautista.
She said there would be three retention ponds, wide but less than two feet deep, all of which have been permitted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
“Because the side slopes are so shallow, it won’t ever pond to 2 feet deep,” she said. “A fence is not required.”
Bynum said he plans to meet with the hospital’s ambulance drivers and determine the best path they would like to use to access the site. This lead to some thoughts by P & Z members, with the planners promising further specifics to follow.
“We need to meet with everyone and allow it to be the best possible solution we can,” said Bynum. “We want to discourage driving through the residential area and past the school.”
Board Member Fred Vogt offered several suggestions regarding the lot coverage. “I’d like to see you guys take a second look,” he said. “The amount of asphalt serving the building is an awful lot.”
Bautista said the scope of the project didn’t allow for further reductions in pavement, and all meet both city and federal requirements. “It’s simply thicker so it holds up to truck traffic better,” she said. “We could not put heavy duty pavement but it would wear out faster.”
She said the city code requires 88 parking spaces, and the state of Florida 124. “We did try to balance the impervious surface with the lot,” Bautista said.
Giddens said the plans call for the removal of 58 trees, six of them protected, with mitigation resulting in 48 new tree plantings, which he said exceed the city requirements.
“All the very best protected tree species will be saved on this site,” he said. “Wonderful live oaks, a magnolia, a great cluster of trees here that we’re able to conserve. The six trees on the protected list have to be removed for site issues, and they’re being replaced by more than required.”
The mitigation will add clusters of live oaks and sabal palms, with no trees in a position to interfere with the emergency transport traffic. “They will be clustered on the perimeters, and will frame views to the entrance,” Bynum said.
The architect showed drawings that featured cupolas, dormers, horizontal siding, standing seam metal roof, and a stone base on bottom, with no heights exceeding the 35-foot maximum.
“The cupola gives more visual prominence, a visual clue where the main entrance is,” he said,
“I think it’s very handsome to have the cupola,” said Board Member Lynn Wilson Spohrer, “I think it’s an enhancement.”
Cooper spoke only in reference to an audience question about the future of the $10.2 million expansion. He said the plan is to have a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture supplement county funds, with that used to purchase bonds.
Board Chairman Tom Daly asked about permeable concrete, but Bautista said that would be too expensive.