Monday, June 1, 2020

More questions still regarding old hospital decision

After attending the Stillwater County Commissioner’s agenda meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 29, and listening to the commissioners respond to public comments made during the agenda meeting on Nov. 15, I have many questions and concerns regarding the direction the commissioners are going with regard to the use of the “old hospital” as a resolution to the office shortage for county offices.
After the commissioners’ remarks, the meeting was adjourned not allowing for other public comment. Consequently, it seems the only recourse to having questions addressed is through writing a letter to the newspaper.
I understand one could meet with the commissioners in their office; however, that does not address the community’s right to have information regarding the critical decisions with the remake of the “old hospital” available to everyone in the community.
Since the meeting, I have had an opportunity to read the structural engineering report of June 2012 by Whitten & Borges in Billings.
In that report, they suggested there may be problems with the integrity of the concrete foundation walls. They recommended two or three concrete samples be tested for integrity. I cannot find in the Clerk and Recorder’s file where this has been done. Additionally, the report indicated there was an issue with inadequate wall reinforcement in the foundation. They suggested it could be addressed in a proposal for renovation drawings with various solutions explored which could be evaluated for both suitability and cost.
To my knowledge, there is no drawing nor information that addresses this issue. In fact, there does not seem to be any design or plan with costs, etc. regarding the “old hospital” since about 2011. I am under the impression the plan drawn up by Spectrum was a preliminary plan to give a variety of options for Courthouse expansion. Is this the plan and costs the Commissioners are using as a basis their cost projections? I would imagine costs have risen significantly since then. Are the structural concerns and costs addressed in that study?
The commissioners last Tuesday seemed to be offended that one of the citizens had commented that they did not have the skill set to address the building project. I agree with this statement. I do not expect them to have the skill set to understand all of the issues and solutions in a rebuilding situation with the old building and it’s issues. After all, people specialize in these areas and spend years in school learning to address these issues.
There are many talented members of this community that, I imagine, would be willing to share their expertise in these areas with the Commissioners. I would think the Commissioners could put together a committee of these experts that could assist them with understanding the building issues which would enable them to make informed decisions. I am concerned we are spending thousands, soon to be millions, of dollars without a clear plan and without a clear idea of costs.
These are just a few of the questions I, and I imagine many people in the community, have regarding the building project. I have many more, but space limits what can be addressed. We are anticipating spending millions of taxpayer dollars on this project. Before the commissioners obligate us for this huge expense, we need to make sure it is a wise use of our money and fully addresses our needs. We need to have a clear plan with complete costs which is shared openly with the community. Continuing to demolish and rebuild the old hospital without a current design, plan and costs from experts in the field is an irresponsible use of our tax dollars.
Additionally, the commissioners need to make information regarding their plans and the steps they are taking regarding this issue open and visible to the public either through public meetings or interviews and publications through the newspaper. The lack of transparency has created a great deal of misinformation and mistrust within the community.
I would hope the commissioners would see the wisdom of being open and transparent. I would hope as well they would make use of the many talented experts in the community to help them make decisions that are good for everyone.

Coralee Hicks is a long-time Columbus resident, a former county employee and regular attendee of the weekly Stillwater County Commission agenda meetings.