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County Hospital razing urged
Firm with Stroger tie had role in study backing demolition

Wednesday, October 05, 2005
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

A politically connected consulting team that includes the godson of Cook County Board President John Stroger is recommending that the former Cook County Hospital be demolished, which has been Stroger's wish all along.

In a wide-ranging report on the future of the hospital campus, the consultants also urged the addition of 176 more beds at Stroger Hospital, which opened less than three years ago.

Although the hospital has 100 empty beds on any given day, the vacancies are in specialty areas and, the report found, there was a shortage of general medical-surgical beds.

The study, which recommends $791 million in projects over the next several years, will officially be issued Wednesday to the Cook County Board. It is expected to be sent to a committee for debate.

While the report contains many components, the recommendation to demolish the 91-year-old vacant West Side hospital should immediately capture the most attention.

Debate over whether to save the old structure raged two years ago. Stroger favored the original plan to tear it down, but commissioners narrowly blocked that attempt.

Earlier this year, Stroger called for a comprehensive analysis of the county's facility needs for its medical campus.

The $1.4 million contract for the study was awarded to U.S. Equities Realty, which is led by Robert Wislow, a campaign contributor to both Stroger and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. A firm run by Orlando Jones, Stroger's godson and former chief of staff, is a subcontractor on the deal.

"Surprise, surprise. This is a politically connected firm that is in Stroger's back pocket," said Michael Moran, vice president of the advocacy group Preservation Chicago. "We hope the commissioners see this report for what it is, which is a Stroger-generated condemnation."

David Bahlman, president of the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, said the report's executive summary seemed to show that the consultants were building a case for demolition over renovation.

"It's obvious to me that there is a bias in the report, and the bias is to demolish," Bahlman said. "The report doesn't really factor in all of the creative thinking and feasible plans that were developed two years ago now by a group of experienced and knowledgeable developers in rehabilitation work."

Stroger spokesman John Gibson said Stroger "believes the report will speak for itself and he will follow the board's recommendation."

Wislow and Jones could not be reached for comment.

The consultants also recommend constructing a new office building and a separate space for clinics, expanding the emergency department and adding to the parking garage.

In recommending demolition of the old hospital, the report cites "the efficiency and qualitative benefits of a modern, purpose-built, integrated-design [office] facility" and the "significantly lower cost of building new vs. rehabilitation."

The report found that rehabilitating the old hospital for reuse as offices would cost $11.4 million more than new construction.

Demolition of the old hospital would also allow for better vehicular access and circulation around the campus, the report said.

The consultants said adding 176 beds to Stroger Hospital would cost $50 million.

The report said 100 beds are needed now to meet current demand for "medical surgical" patients, or those with the most common ailments. Another 76 beds will be needed to meet anticipated growth in that area over the next decade, the study said.

However, the report also found that beds for specialties such as pediatrics and obstetrics are less than half full. Figures show the hospital averages about 350 patients per day.

When Stroger Hospital opened in December 2002, county officials knew that the bed allocation was inappropriate and tried to blame the state, which signed off on construction.

State officials, however, said it was the county that picked the number of each type of bed.

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