Plans subject to In-Town Design Committee review

Hospital emergency department expansion approved

By Stephanie Grinnell | Oct 09, 2017
Source: SMRT An artist's rendering of the exterior of Waldo County General Hospital after an emergency department expansion.

Belfast — Concerns about a defined entrance, traffic flow and buffering topped the list as Planning Board members heard from the public as well as architects designing an emergency department expansion at Waldo County General Hospital.

The expansion will add 4,500 square feet to the emergency department, and, to replace parking area lost to the expansion, the hospital also is seeking to add 70 new parking spaces behind the Biscone Medical Building across the street from the main hospital campus.

Presenting design plans, SMRT architect Craig Piper said Sept. 27 the goal of expanding the emergency department is to increase patient privacy and treatment area function. The expansion will parallel the existing emergency department and feature an exterior covered canopy, while doing away with pediments and pillars that currently define the main entrance to the hospital. Piper said a cupola will be retained.

“The cupola is quite special,” he said.

According to Piper, the pillars, pediments and cupola became part of the hospital in 1956. An addition in 1983 kept those features but moved them forward to front a new entrance. With the new design, which also retains existing windows, the cupola becomes the main architectural feature, he said.

The main entrance and emergency entrances will be combined and patients and visitors will enter a lobby area, Piper said, with the main entrance to the hospital to the left and emergency department to the right. Much of the front facade will feature opaque windows to ensure patient privacy and mirror the look of a previously removed solarium.

Planning Board member Declan O'Connor said the new plan “doesn't read as a main entrance” and said he was concerned people going to the hospital for routine tests might think the new entrance is only for emergency patients.

“What's going to avoid confusion?” he asked.

Board member Margot Carpenter agreed.

“I'm not sure you (should) lose that grand entrance,” she said.

Piper noted an "iconic red cross" will be added above the emergency entrance. Lloyd suggested installing signs that indicate the new entrance is for all patients and visitors.

“Right now, it looks like entering the back of an ambulance,” O'Connor later said.

Lighting plans include lighted bollards and upward directed fixtures under the canopy. City Planner Sadie Lloyd urged Piper to work with Code Enforcement Officer Tod Rosenberg regarding desired red LED lights leading the way to the emergency department. She cautioned placement of the up-lights should not cause light pollution or interfere with emergency vehicles.

“We would not permit a light to shine straight up like that, especially with the helicopter operation,” Lloyd said.

Two residents of Fahey Street, Dana and Judy Williams, both spoke about the already troublesome traffic pattern in the area and said they hope the new parking lot flow will address those issues. Dana Williams said he also had been worried about lighting and noise before hearing the presentation that evening. They were the only two members of the public to speak. No emails or other communications about the plans were received, according to Lloyd.

Planning Board members questioned potential sign placement in an area with a circular traffic pattern intended as a drop-off area for emergency department patients. O'Connor referenced earlier meetings in which the roundabout was discussed but said the plan remains unclear as to what will stop people entering the lot from Northport Avenue from driving through the circle and exiting on Fahey Street. Piper noted there will be “Do not enter” signs placed in that direction of travel, as Fahey Street will become one way with the new pattern. The existing ambulance drop-off area remains the same, he said.

Landscaping and buffering plans also were updated. City codes outline required buffers between properties of different uses, but one area of the hospital property, because of a new bioretention pond for stormwater, hasn't enough room for buffering to meeting the code, Lloyd noted. One option is to approach the abutting property owner, Maine Behavioral Health, and request a written agreement that existing vegetation on that property will not be cut. With at least 10 to 15 feet of vegetation and a written agreement in place, the buffer would sufficiently dampen any noise and visual impact.

“If it doesn't meet the code and there's less buffering, is the board comfortable with that or do you want them to just meet the code? Let's just decide that right now,” Lloyd said. “... I assume they're (Maine Behavioral Health) going to work with the hospital; they have in the past.”

Planning Board members later approved the plans but they are still subject to review by the In-Town Design Review Committee, Lloyd noted.

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Stephanie Grinnell
(207) 338-3333 ext. 110
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Stephanie is editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. She previously served as editor of Camden Herald following its return in April 2012.

Stephanie also was editor of VillageSoup's Capital Weekly in Augusta and has nearly a decade of experience in the newspaper business ranging from southern and central Maine to Waldo County.

Outside the office, she enjoys reading, cooking and gardening.

Stephanie lives in Washington with her husband Jeff, four children, a dog named Chewbacca, a rabbit and chickens.

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