Valley Children’s spends millions to buy land adjacent to Madera County campus. Here’s why

Valley Children’s Hospital is buying land adjacent to its existing Madera County campus that will not only give the hospital more acreage to expand pediatric medical services, but allow for potentially growing the scope of services to include adults as well as kids.

The 121-acre purchase, which was agreed to between the hospital and the Gunner family in February and recorded at the end of May, is a 75% increase to the hospital’s land holdings surrounding its facilities on the north side of the San Joaquin River west of Highway 41. It brings Valley Children’s land holdings for its campus to about 280 acres, CEO Todd Suntrapak told The Bee.

Documents filed with the Madera County Recorder indicate that a purchase agreement was reached on Feb. 19 between Richard and Margaret Gunner and Valley Children’s. The property includes land south of Children’s Boulevard and west of Highway 41, on the northeast side of the hospital’s current campus. The purchase price for the land was not disclosed, but based on property transfer taxes paid to Madera County in recording the deed, the sale price is believed to be about $35.8 million.

The hospital – which moved from central Fresno to Madera County in 1998 – isn’t currently facing space constraints, Suntrapak said, but future residential growth in the Fresno-Madera area will require eventual expansion. “There are going to be 30,000 more rooftops coming within a five-mile radius,” he said. “But there’s more to it than that.”

While some specific plans have yet to be determined, Suntrapak said, the added property offers room for “future expansion, future growth” and, over a longer time frame, “for us to become the first fully integrated medical campus in the Valley” serving not only children, but patients of all ages.

Such a plan would represent a significant increase in the scope of service for the hospital, which was founded in 1952 as a dedicated pediatric hospital, and potentially set the stage for competition with other area hospitals in Fresno and Madera. Over the past 35 years, Valley Children’s has opened satellite facilities, including pediatric clinics and neonatal intensive care units, in Fresno, Hanford, Merced, Modesto and Bakersfield.

Community plans nearby

The recent purchase and budding plans shine a spotlight on the prospect for two major medical complexes in the fast-growing Rolling Hills area of Madera County east and west of Highway 41. Just two miles away, at the northeast corner of Highway 41 and Avenue 12, Community Medical Centers — which operates Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno, Clovis Community Medical Center in Clovis and the Fresno Heart and Surgical Hospital — acquired 200 acres of land in early 2017 with an expectation of future development.

In 2015, Community announced that it was joining UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals to expand its own offerings of specialty services for children, positioning itself to compete with Valley Children’s. The organization embarked on construction of a five-story, $60 million medical office building near its downtown campus, most of which was to be devoted to pediatricians and specialists in its new pediatric program.

VCH’s move north

Developer Richard Gunner initially attracted Valley Children’s Hospital from its longtime home in central Fresno, where it was outgrowing its facility at Shields and Millbrook avenues, with a 1988 offer to donate 35 acres of land to the hospital in Madera County. Valley Children’s formally accepted Gunner’s offer in 1991, after at points considering other options including: relocating as part of a downtown medical center complex with other hospitals; developing what was known as the “Fresno 40” property at Friant Road and Audubon Drive in northeast Fresno; and an offer of free land near Jensen and Sunnyside avenues in southeast Fresno.

Over the intervening years, Valley Children’s purchased another 125 acres from Gunner around the hospital prior to the latest acquisition.

Earlier this month, Valley Children’s was recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the nation’s highest-ranking children’s hospitals in five different specialties of pediatric practice, including diabetes / endocrinology, gastroenterology / gastrointestinal surgery, neonatal care, orthopedics and urology.

Last week, the hospital welcomed its third class of medical interns into a three-year pediatric residency in affiliation with the Stanford University School of Medicine. The 13 residents hail from across California. Four pharmacy school graduates also entered the hospital’s one-year pharmacy residency – the 21st year that Valley Children’s has hosted the program.

Lifelong Valley resident Tim Sheehan has worked in the Valley as a reporter and editor since 1986, and has been at The Fresno Bee since 1998. He is currently The Bee’s data reporter and covers California’s high-speed rail project and other transportation issues. He grew up in Madera, has a journalism degree from Fresno State and a master’s degree in leadership studies from Fresno Pacific University.