By Rhonda Buckhold
The sounds of heavy construction and the rapidly changing landscape are a testament to the growth of the health care industry in Springfield. Carpenter Street, the main artery of the medical district, is the most visible area of in-process new construction. The district covers approximately one square mile, bordered by Madison Street, 11th Street, North Grand Ave. and Walnut Street.
O’Shea Builders is the most prevalent contracting company in the area. They have a small office with a large sign located within the district at the corner of N. Rutledge and Carpenter Street. Bridget Ingebrigtsen, the marketing director for O’Shea Builders, proudly states, “SIU, St. John’s and Memorial are all our clients.” One of their many current projects is a large structure on the corner of Fifth and Carpenter Sts. which will be an expansion for the SIU Center for Family Medicine.
The new construction project will double the size of the existing building, located at 420 N. Fourth Street. The additional 30,000 square feet of space is fully funded and designed to meet the growing demand for medical care.
“Thanks to the Affordable Care Act and the Center for Family Medicine’s designation as a Federally Qualified Health Center, more patients are able to find health care at SIU Center for Family Medicine. But the space available to see those patients has remained the same,” says Karen Carlson, the director of the office of public affairs at SIU School of Medicine. The expansion will provide the additional needed space. The expansion is expected to facilitate 70,000 patient visits a year. The completion of the new building is set for fall of 2016 with renovations to the current building due the following year.
While SIU has the most noticeable new construction at present, Hospital Sisters Health Systems (HSHS) St. John’s Hospital is currently altering large portions of the landscape as they prepare to start several new construction projects. The former Salvation Army building at the corner of Sixth and Carpenter along with the large brick building across from St. John’s (on the corner of Eighth and Carpenter) have recently been torn down.
A zoning petition has been filed with the city of Springfield to make both areas parking lots once the rubble is cleared, according to Catie Sheehan, director of communications at HSHS St. John’s, which already owns and maintains several parking areas across from and around the main hospital complex. However, when the new parking areas are complete they will encompass the entire blocks from Sixth to Seventh and Carpenter to Reynolds Sts., as well as Eighth to Ninth from Carpenter to Miller.
With the exception of one small building on each lot, St. John’s houses its medical records information office on the corner of Ninth and Carpenter. A small, cream-colored brick building owned by St. John’s will divide the old parking lot on the corner of Sixth and Reynolds from the new surface but on the corner of Sixth and Carpenter.
Several of the medical district’s inhabitants are dismayed at the recent announcement for the new construction plans to include two new surface area parking lots. The Illinois Medical District Commission’s master plan shunned the idea of surface parking areas in the neighborhood. The publication, available at http://www.imdc.org/about/reports/imd-master-plan, was the result of a collaborative effort along the state of Illinois, Capital Development Board, CWLP, Memorial Medical Center, St. John’s Hospital, SIU School of Medicine, Enos Park Neighborhood Association, Oak Ridge Neighborhood Association, Downtown Springfield, Inc., and Save Old Springfield. These organizations agreed upon the design and development for structured growth of the medical district based on a series of citizen gatherings where stakeholders and interested parties were able to vote on their preferences for appearance and use of the designated areas.
The master plan left no question of the general consensus in regard to exposed surface area parking lots. According to the publication, “parking lots are unfriendly, unsightly, and not conducive to promoting pedestrian traffic in the area.” This theme prevailed, especially when it came to the recommendations for use of land at Carpenter Street. The structures were to be multi-level buildings, housing storefronts and loft apartments for student and medical employee housing. The first floor coffee shops and eateries would hide the parking lots from view, thus making the formerly blighted part of the city more vibrant and continuing on the path to future economic growth of the surrounding historic neighborhoods.
St. John’s does maintain that the parking lots may be only temporary. Sheehan explains that “it also allows for possible campus expansion in the future. We intend to use that lot (8th and Carpenter) for St. John’s College of Nursing, which experiences continual growth.”
“In the near future, we are investing a substantial amount of money on some major projects,” said Chris Campbell, VP and strategy officer of the HSHS Central Illinois Division. “HSHS St. John’s Hospital and Southern Illinois University School of Medicine are partnering to develop a new medical office building along Ninth Street to care for women and children, pending regulatory approvals.”
St. John’s medical office building is set to begin construction this year with completion in 2017, which will result in the removal of most of the parking lots currently on Ninth Street. This will be an expansion of the Carol Jo Vecchie Women and Children’s Center at 415 N. Ninth. The expansion is rumored to include a skywalk, making a safer crossing for pedestrians on the busy thoroughfare of Ninth Street.
O’Shea Builders plans to continue their involvement in the growing area of health care facilities. They most recently completed an expansion project for Memorial Medical Center consisting of the new patient care tower and surgery suites, as well as the Memorial Medical Center for Learning and Innovation. O’Shea was also the general contractor for Springfield Clinic First North.
On Ninth Street, Halverson Construction is currently working on the underpass project next to St. John’s planned expansion site. Heavy equipment looms large throughout the medical district and some areas have a very industrial vibe. While residents and businesses in the medical district welcome the continued growth, hopefully the expansion projects will be in harmony with the ultimate vision that the various stakeholders originally outlined in the master plan.
Rhonda Buckhold is a freelance writer and researcher. She can be reached