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Consultant sought for hospital review
County officials want analysis

Thursday, June 10, 2004
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Cook County may hire a consultant to conduct a detailed cost-and-needs analysis of its health-care facilities with the future of the old County Hospital as a central focus.

In a letter forwarded Wednesday to county commissioners, two top aides to Board President John Stroger issued three recommendations for dealing with the question of whether to demolish the old hospital.

In a cover letter, Stroger told commissioners he was forwarding the recommendations for their review.

Preservationists have been urging Stroger not to tear down the 90-year-old West Side facility, which was replaced by a new hospital in 2002.

Facing resistance from commissioners, Stroger earlier this year backed away from pushing for immediate demolition and asked his staff to review the county's health-care needs.

Ruth Rothstein, health bureau chief, and Michael LaMont, director of capital planning and policy, said in the jointly signed letter that they have spent several months crafting a preliminary list of such needs.

Their first recommendation, to search for a health-care master planning consultant, came because "there is much investigative and planning work necessary to support those needs and to develop options for consideration. ..." Rothstein and LaMont wrote.

They also recommended the county go ahead with environmental abatement, which would be required regardless of demolition, and also proceed with the planned razing of other undisputed structures such as the old children's hospital.

LaMont said Wednesday the internal evaluation has been limited but helpful in determining basics such as the need for medical offices and the condition of Fantus Clinic, an outpatient facility on campus.

Of a consultant's detailed analysis with cost estimates, LaMont said, "This really is the right thing to do with the campus as it stands now."

LaMont said they would be prepared to find a consultant as quickly as possible.

LaMont was hesitant to give a time frame for completion, but he said such an analysis could take about six months.

According to the letter, a main point of the consultant's scope of work would be to "evaluate and recommend economic re-use of Main Building (front) or facade, or portion of facade."

"I'm leaving it all open," LaMont said of the options to re-use all, portions or none of the old building.

County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, a chief proponent of saving the old hospital, reacted with caution to the letter.

"As long as the main 1914 building is protected and a re-use for that building is developed to meet the health-care needs of the county system, I am supportive of the process discussed in this letter," said Suffredin, an Evanston Democrat.

Suffredin said he is not interested in simply trying to preserve the building's facade.

"I'm bothered by the use of words like facade or portion of facade" in the letter, Suffredin said. "I will fight any attempt to destroy any portion of the main hospital building."



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