Latest Cloquet hospital expansion larger than 2004 project

If all goes as planned, the second - and largest - of a series of planned expansions at Community Memorial Hospital could be breaking ground by October.

Community Memorial Hospital
This visual rendition shows what Community Memorial Hospital will look like from the river when all the expansion phases are complete. The large structure on the left is the biggest piece of the planned Phase 2 expansion, a three-story addition, which will offer fully modernized care and accommodations to hospital patients. On the right are future possible expansions/renovations planned for the 80-bed Sunnyside Health Care Center. CEO Rick Breuer said the $25 million Phase 2 expansion should break ground...

If all goes as planned, the second - and largest - of a series of planned expansions at Community Memorial Hospital could be breaking ground by October.

So far, so good. On Monday afternoon, hospital administrators got the final construction costs for the project. Monday evening members of the private non-profit hospital board of directors gave the go-ahead to proceed with hiring contractors and financing the project. Then, on Tuesday night, members of the Cloquet Planning Commission voted to recommend the Cloquet City Council approve the project's site plan at its next meeting Sept. 7.

Community Memorial Hospital CEO Rick Breuer is thrilled.

"With this, the quality of the building and layout will catch up to our quality of care," he said, comparing the feel of the new patient rooms to an upscale hotel. "Really, going to the hospital is an experience, not just a service. An oil change is a service. But the rest of your world stops when you go to the hospital, so we want it to be as positive an experience as it can be."

The $25 million project will add nearly 80,000 square feet to the hospital, increasing the current campus size of 151,000 square feet by more than 50 percent.


Yet, from the road, it won't look all that different.

That's because the largest part of the work will take place between the building and the river, in an unpaved area now used for parking, where the hospital plans a three-story addition. (Note: Very few trees will be destroyed to make room for the project and expanded/replacement parking.)

Architect Randy Blomquist said the new addition will be quite unique because of the hillside construction.

"The new building will go one and a half stories below the current basement [or ground floor as hospital directories call it], but the upper floor will line up with the current first floor," Blomquist explained to planning commission members.

There will be one change to the front of the building, where a one-story addition will be added near the main entrance to house a new specialty clinic for visiting and local specialist doctors, such as orthopedic surgeons and ob-gyn doctors, as well as a new sleep clinic.

"All the different 'ologists' who come to town will have offices and exam rooms there," Breuer said. "Right now they practice in an old administrative area which is very tight for space."

While Phase 1 (completed in 2004) of the hospital expansion added space for diagnostic and critical care services, Phase 2 will expand patient care areas, along with just about anything in support of or related to patient care.

Eighteen new private, much larger, inpatient rooms will go on the top floor of the back addition, along with three birthing rooms and four private intensive care rooms (the current intensive care area is a ward, with only curtains to separate the patients) on the same floor.


"Every inpatient room will have its own bathroom, plus a nice workspace for nurses and doctors to get their work done right in the room," the CEO said proudly. "They will also have all the technology that people want in today's world."

Also planned for that floor is an expanded gift shop, an area for patients undergoing infusion therapies and a large family waiting area. The chapel will also be given its own space on that floor, moving up from a redesigned X-ray room.

One floor below, in what Breuer called "employee/community space," the kitchen and cafeteria area will grow to four or five times its current size. There will be meeting rooms (available to the public) as well as new educational classrooms, including a computer lab and a "simulation" lab with patient beds, etc., for training.

"Many of our more than 400 employees have ongoing education requirements for licensure, and there's not a lot of that offered in the area, so they often have to travel," Breuer said. "We see an opportunity to host sessions both for our own staff and for people around the region, from the [Iron] Range up to the North Shore."

On the lowest floor, or sub-basement, there will be two docking areas for delivery trucks plus significantly more storage area as well as a new linen facility and space for all the mechanical equipment needed to run both the new addition and the oldest portion of the hospital.

"When this phase is finished, we will be 80 percent of the way to a fully modernized hospital," Blomquist said.

That's not all.

A new dialysis program will make its home on the second floor of the current hospital building. Currently, people needing dialysis have to travel to Duluth,


"That's a huge time commitment, both for the patient and the person driving them," Breuer said, " - three days a week, four hours per treatment. With this, someone local could bring his or her friend, go back to work and come back when everything is finished. Also the patient, who might not be feeling so good, is only minutes away from home."

There's one final physical change planned: The current film room will be transformed into an MRI lab. No longer will patients wait for the mobile MRI truck to come to Cloquet (which it does for a half-day three or four days a week).

While Phase 1 - a $15 million, 55,000 square foot expansion - was paid for in part by a $2 million community capital campaign, this phase will be entirely financed.

"We promised people we wouldn't be coming back in the second phase, asking for more money," Breuer said.

The CEO said the hospital is trying to work with local partners for financing, as well as the actual construction.

The general contractors for Phase 2, like Phase 1, will be local contractors Ray Riihiluoma Inc. and Oscar J. Boldt Construction, who will partner for the project. Breuer said the hospital invited the two companies to submit a joint bid. Many of the subcontractors will also be local companies.

"I've had some contractors from the Twin Cities call, want-ing to bid," Breuer said. "I told them, 'We ask the public to stay local and use us, we have to do the same.'"

That commitment to buying local even extends to the artwork that will eventually cover the walls, although those purchases will come later on.


"I feel very good about this," Breuer said. "I think it will be a great project, and we're working with people who will be living in the community when it's done. If there's a problem, they'll be here to fix it.

"When we held the 50-year anniversary celebration, people told me they helped build the original hospital."

Construction on the Phase 2 addition is expected to take 15 months. That includes putting in an underground stormwater retention area.

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