Mercy deconstructs to construct new hospital

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 315 views 

The Mercy Orthopedic Hospital project kicked off on Tuesday (Sept. 18) in Fort Smith, but spectators expecting the traditional groundbreaking were treated to a change of pace. Rather than spade-and-shovel, the project began with deconstruction of the building at 3501 W.E. Knight Drive at the intersection of Phoenix Avenue and 79th Street.

Ryan Gehrig, president of Mercy Fort Smith, said that “for the next eight weeks, we’ll be about deconstruction.” Once the demolition is finished, Gehrig said the hospital would take “about 19 months to finish.”

“I want you to mark this down. By the end of 2014, Fort Smith will have its own $42 million, 24-bed orthopedic hospital that will be equipped with the latest technology and staffed with the best nurses, therapists, and other clinical staff. It will become a destination center that will draw patients from across the region to Fort Smith for orthopedic care,” Gehrig told the audience at Tuesday’s “beam removal” ceremony.

Previous owners of the unfinished “eyesore,” as Gehrig referred to it, halted the construction in May 2009. Mercy purchased the site close to two years later in February 2011. Initial planning and site design work began in August 2011 with the original plan to use the existing facility. After digging deeper into the project, however, the health care provider opted to start from scratch.

Ryan Bader, planning, design, and construction manager for Mercy, said the decision was made “to start fresh to incorporate design elements important to our patients, community and Mercy.”

“We only have one shot at this, and we want to get it right,” Bader added. “It will also give us additional shell space, allowing for future growth to serve the community for years to come.”

Dr. Greg Jones, an orthopedic surgeon and one of the originators of the project, said he was “grateful” for Mercy’s involvement.

“When we started out as a group of doctors, almost eight years ago now, we said that for us to bring the best that we can to this community for the kind of work that we do, we’re going to have to do something different. And that different meant building a campus that represented all of the elements of the hard word to say — musculoskeletal — but the bones and joints, and we dreamed that if we put all of that together, we’d be doing a really good thing for this community.”

The facility, once finished, will employ “between 100 and 125 employees,” according to Gehrig, and will act as a significant portion of Mercy’s $192 million community master plan, which, according to a company statement, is “designed to recruit and retain doctors, build infrastructure and upgrade technology over the next seven years.”

Mercy will open its Dallas Street clinic in October 2012 and plans to break ground on another before the end of the year, according to Mercy Chairman Richard Hahn. The hospital is also underway on an $8 million renovation project at its Heart Center.