The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 10, 2012

Windber emergency room plan OK’d

David Hurst

WINDBER — Windber Medical Center’s plans to build a new $6 million emergency department are a step closer to reality.

Windber Planning Commission approved the hospital’s land development plan Wednesday for the three-story complex and approved requests that will allow two Somerset Avenue homes to be demolished for new parking and hospital storage.

It’s a project that has been a long time coming.

The hospital emergency room was designed for 5,000 patients per year, but in recent years it has treated more than 14,000 annually, officials have said.

“If all goes well, they’ll begin taking down the old annex in March ... and get to construction on the new addition once they are done,” said Chris Sheridan, Windber Medical Center attorney.

Designs outlined to the planning commission showed a modern emergency department with more than 14,000 square feet. It increases emergency treatment space from three rooms to nine overall. Seven rooms will be private.

A trauma room is to be added with space to work on two patients, while an expanded waiting room and physician offices would be included.

Hospital officials said in 2011 that the expanded space will create 25 new health-care jobs.

Windber Medical Center has publicly been raising funds for the project since 2008.

Sheridan said existing annex offices are already being temporarily moved to other hospital space to make room for demolition work to begin.

The annex is a century old and originally served as part of the hospital’s nursing quarters, he added.

The planning commission approved separate conditional use requests that will allow Windber Medical Center to add parking and storage space across Fifth Avenue.

To make that happen, the hospital purchased two Somerset Avenue homes during the summer. Fred Oliveros, Windber Borough manager and zoning officer, said one of homes is badly dilapidated.

Planning commissioners approved that plan, too, but said the hospital must follow through with plans to add a landscaped buffer area between the parking lot and neighboring homes. New sidewalks must be added on Fifth Avenue and lot lighting must be “shielded” to reduce annoyance to neighbors.

Oliveros noted the Somerset Avenue home properties will come off the tax rolls, but he said the project will remove one poorly kept home. Each property brought in only about $400 or $500 annually, he said.

“I think this new facility will be a bigger benefit,” he said. “We’re getting, hopefully, a state-of-the-art ER room – and I think that outweighs that.”

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