The Kaweah Delta Health Care District must build a new hospital to meet state earthquake standards and is preparing to propose a bond measure to help pay for construction.
The amount of the general obligation bond won’t be known until a study is completed next month for the board of directors, but it could go on the ballot next year, health care district CEO Lindsay Mann said.
Although the dollar amount is still to be decided, school and city officials have been paying close attention for fear of a voter backlash.
They worry that voters will get sticker shock and be reluctant to support their proposals, such as a school construction bond or sales tax measure.
But Kaweah Delta has no choice and must build a new hospital, and will make that case to the public, Mann said.
“This is not a ‘Nice, we’d like to do it’ project,” Mann said. “It’s a necessity of the law.”
After the Northridge earthquake of 1994, the Legislature dictated that all hospitals must be able to survive a major earthquake and set 2030 as the deadline.
This is not a ‘nice, we’d like to do it’ project. It’s a necessity of the law.
Lindsay Mann, Kaweah Delta Health Care District
The main hospital in downtown Visalia was built 50 years ago, doesn’t meet the earthquake standard and can’t be used for regular patients after the deadline, Mann said.
Mayor Steve Nelsen said he doesn’t know how big a bond the hospital will seek, but expects the amount will be large. He fears the average taxpayer will rebel if there are too many bond measures or sales tax questions in a short time.
“I like to say, ‘I only need one hand in my pocket other than my own,’ ” Nelsen said.
The Visalia Unified School District needs to build a new high school and will probably seek a school bond before long, said Board President John Crabtree.
“It’s tough to have two bond measures on there,” he said.
273Number of hospital beds in main hospital at Kaweah Delta Medical Center
But Mann said he has met with school and city officials and that they understand that the hospital district needs a new building.
“We’re on the same page,” he said. “The school district and the city understand we are not pursuing a discretionary interest here. I don’t believe there’s a great deal of tension.”
The hospital has gone to the public only twice for a bond, he said – in 1963 for $4 million to build the current main hospital, and in 2004 for $51 million for the Acequia Wing that houses the cardiac area.
A hospital bond requires two-thirds approval by voters, unlike a school bond that requires a 55 percent vote and a sales tax that must exceed 50 percent approval.
“Sixty-seven percent is climbing Everest,” Mann said. “It’s not climbing Mount Whitney; it’s climbing Everest.”
The district is already getting its talking points in order.
In August, Mann sent out a memo to his staff laying out the earthquake requirements “so that you are able to speak clearly and with confidence to members of our community about our plans to develop a new acute care hospital.”
Although construction details such as the number of stories are not established, pieces of the puzzle are in place.
Construction would start in 2020, and the new hospital would open four years later.
The new hospital will be built in downtown Visalia on land the district already owns. Five smaller buildings must be demolished, including Checkers restaurant and Doc’s restaurant.
The health care district would pay for the new hospital from cash reserves, revenue bonds, state and federal grants, community fundraising and a general obligation bond.
The current main hospital has 273 beds. After 2030, the original building can still be used for some medical needs, so it would remain in use, Mann said.
Being retained are the neighboring emergency department, labor and delivery floors, pediatrics and the Broderick Pavilion short-stay surgical facility.