Hospital emergency parking versus wildlife and trees

Hospital emergency parking versus wildlife and trees

By Shellie Berg

By Shellie Berg

Staff Reporter

On Monday, July 30, 1.4 acres of trees in a 3.5-acre forest began to fall as chainsaws began clearing the area for OSF St. Anthony Medical Center’s first phase of a project to expand the hospital’s Emergency Department.

The hospital is eliminating about 100 spaces near the department and creating 180 spaces. The parking lot is slated for completion by the end of August. The changes will also disrupt the start of the walking path. However, it will be reconstructed in another area and link up to the remaining path.

Nature lover Rod Myers has enjoyed the the woods when he has rolled through the walking path in his wheelchair. He is opposed to the tree-removal. A former St. Anthony patient, he felt the view of such vegetation as white and red oak, wild geranium and jack-in-the pulpit augmented his healing process.

Outdoorsman Scott Caring has walked through the woods. “Their attitude toward the land is as malignant as I’ve ever heard,” he said. “What they’ve done is take out something they can’t replace. These people’s land ethic is twisted. St. Francis would be ashamed.”

St. Francis is hailed as the nature saint. But the sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, which founded the hospital in 1899, affirm that it’s imperative to slice through the woods to accommodate parking for more patients.

Rockford Blacktop is the parking lot contractor. Gregory Alford, spokesman for Saint Anthony, refused to disclose other project bidders, indicating the funds are private.

The $6 million project is being privately funded by OSF HealthCare, the parent corporation of the medical center. The entire ER project, which will also include a new convent and ambulance bay, is expected to end in the fall of 2003.

The hospital maintains the project is vital as an increase of more than 1,000 emergency and trauma patients have selected the center for care in the past several years.

Alford said because of the increase, plans have been in place for years. However, Myers said he is aware of many employees who were told another plan would be used, and the trees would remain.

“We’ve never said we were not going to take any trees down,” Alford stated. Alford asserted employees knew of the overall project two weeks before it was ever made public in May.

Alford said OSF explored not disrupting the trees. “We looked at several different options in the planning stages,” he said. One option that included creating a parking deck was dropped last winter in favor of the current plan. “There were safety concerns as well as aesthetic concerns— interfering with the helicopter flight path,” he stated.

In addition to employees, Alford said the hospital has tried to keep neighbors in the adjacent Regent’s Park subdivision abreast of the situation and sent out letters divulging project details one week before construction began.

“We’ve been communicating with neighbors who have questions and concerns about the project to let them know what happens before it happens,” he said.

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