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Creating a 'Center of Health': Altru officials present plans for new facilities development at South Columbia Road campus

Altru Health System's Chief Operating Officer Brad Wehe leads a presentation Monday to the Grand Forks City Council on Altru's plans for development of a new complex on Columbia Road. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald1 / 2
A fence surrounds the site of the former Altru Clinic after demolition in recent months. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald2 / 2

Altru Health System presented to Grand Forks City Council members Monday the plan for its South Columbia Road campus which is designed to engage the public and meet patients' needs into the future.

The plan includes a new facility, replacing the current hospital, that is expected to be completed in late 2021 or early 2022.

The new facility will bear little resemblance to a conventional hospital, as it will be designed to address changing trends in health care.

"It will not be the same as the hospital as we've known it," said Brad Wehe, Altru's chief operating officer. "It will be a unique facility that reflects the character of our community."

To develop the facility as they envision it, Altru officials asked Council members to partner with them on a plan to relocate a water forced main which runs east and west, between the hospital and site of the former Main Clinic, draining into the English Coulee. That forced main runs directly beneath the proposed facility.

Relocating the main, which is about 50 years old, would cost about $1.5 million, "depending on the route and the sizing," said Todd Feland, city administrator.

Altru officials also asked the council to restructure 30th Street, built as a "rural road" which runs north and south behind the hospital, into an urban street.

The project meets the goals of the strategic infrastructure growth, or SIG, investments, Feland told the council.

The new hospital structure, expected to cost more than $250 million, would encompass an emergency room and "diagnostic and treatment platform," to house procedural areas and imaging services, and would be topped with an "in-patient tower," Wehe said.

The operating room "will have a ceiling and walls that are alive—alive with technology," he said.

The new hospital facility will offer more outpatient services and accommodate less inpatient stays, he said. "There will be fewer beds."

Patients who are hospitalized will have conditions that "are more complicated, more complex," and those patients will be fewer in number, he said.

The master site plan reflects the system's commitment to creating a "culture of health," and incorporates the Sertoma Park, Japanese Garden, bike paths and the English Coulee, said Wehe, who will take over as chief executive officer for retiring Dave Molmen on Jan. 1.

The plan represents a vision for campus development over the next 25 years "but we hope it's done sooner," he said.

It also includes an array of new clinics and other buildings to the south of the new hospital.

Development of the hospital project will have a major economic impact on the community, said Meghan Compton, Altru's chief legal counsel.

It will provide an additional $90 million in salaries and benefits, and an infusion of $25 million in the purchase of goods and services by new employees who are added to the Altru payroll over the next five years, Compton said.

Altru officials announced in February that a new hospital would be built north of the current 41-year-old facility on South Columbia Road.

Altru's Main Clinic was compromised by a structural failure in December 2016. Departments and offices were relocated to other Altru locations.

Although the health system had a master plan in place at that time, the demise of the Main Clinic offered an opportunity to reconsider and reconfigure plans for the campus, Wehe told council members.

"With encouragement from staff, the community and perhaps some of you, we took a step back and looked at that plan," he said. The process "landed us in a very different place."

The Main Clinic was demolished early this year.