Kennewick General Hospital CEO Glen Marshall sees a straight, smooth road ahead for the new Southridge hospital.
"We have had a few bumps on the road and have taken a couple of detours but seeing significant progress," Marshall said.
The project hit another important milepost Friday, as KGH officials and supporters gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony at the site.
The hundreds gathered under the shade of tents at the construction site wore big smiles and exchanged celebratory hugs before grabbing shovels and digging into the dirt where the three-story hospital will stand.
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They also heard from the hospital and community leaders who have supported development of the new hospital during the five years it took to bring the project to fruition.
"We've been dreaming big, and it's finally becoming a reality," Marshall said.
Kennewick Hospital District board members have been planning the 168,000-square-foot, 74-bed hospital since 2007. It will replace much of the function of the existing 60-year-old Auburn Street hospital, including a shift from semiprivate to private rooms and an upgrade to more modern facilities.
The hospital district plans to continue using 27 beds at Auburn Street for pediatrics and obstetrics and will operate an urgent care center there.
The construction is expected to create 250 construction jobs -- about 90 percent of them to be filled by Tri-Citians -- and bring $5 million in sales tax money to Kennewick's coffers.
As Marshall said in his speech Friday, the new hospital hasn't been an easy project to accomplish.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle was finding the right financing method. The district first tried a bond levy that crashed and burned with voters, then pursued a loan from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
But KGH officials abandoned that plan in January 2011 after HUD asked the district to consolidate its operations to one campus instead of leaving some beds at the downtown hospital on Auburn Street, as hospital officials wanted to do.
Their next step was to go to the private sector -- a process that culminated in unanimous approval by the hospital district board on April 20 to enter into an agreement with Wisconsin-based C.D. Smith Construction to build the 168,000-square-foot hospital and lease the building to the hospital district.
Under that arrangement, the hospital district will retain the hospital license and continue to own everything that makes up the hospital's day-to-day operations.
The plan calls for the hospital district to pay rent of about $800,000 a month, with an option to buy the building after 10 years. The lease term is 30 years.
Some smaller hurdles remain in the process, such as getting the final stamp of approval from the state Department of Health on the current financing plan.
But KGH officials are confident approval will come and have moved ahead with excavation for a daylight basement and are preparing to pour foundations for the building. The hospital obtained building permits from the city last fall.
Speakers including Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, and Kennewick businessman Bill Lampson touted the jobs and economic development the new hospital will bring, as well as adding to the quality of health care in the Tri-Cities.
"The Tri-Cities is blessed by having a choice in hospitals," Delvin said. "Today's groundbreaking is proof that as the Tri-Cities continues to grow, KGH will grow alongside it."