Health Center eyeing new Springs site
The parcel on Highway 12 would be broken into three.
With a $5 million grant burning a hole in its pocket, the Sonoma Valley Community Health Center is taking steps to relocate its operations to Boyes Hot Springs. Center officials have identified a vacant lot next to the Sonoma Charter School as an ideal location for a new, 15,000-square-foot facility.
“We are currently in escrow to purchase land at 17310 Sonoma Highway,” said Cheryl Johnson, chief executive officer at the center. “We are only purchasing a portion of the land so we will need a lot-line adjustment and rezoning.”
Under their proposal, the 6-acre parcel, owned by the Vailetti Family Trust, would be broken into three lots. Of that, 1.45 acres would go to the health center; 0.7 acres would be retained by the Vailetti Family Trust for commercial development; and 3.92 acres would be purchased by MidPen Housing Corporation for an affordable housing complex (see accompanying story below). The remaining 0.68 acres would be reserved as open space, including the Sonoma Charter School’s sports field and playground.
“I’m planning on having no more than four tenants in there (the commercial space), which is about 7,500 square feet,” said Marco Vailetti, spokesperson for the Vailetti Family Trust, who added that he analyzed the demographics of the Springs to identify unfilled needs in the community. “We have a health center now, but we don’t have a pharmacy. So I’m looking at small pharmacies. … The other thing missing is a small bank or credit union,” he said.
Johnson said the new health center would be open for business by May 30, 2015, a requirement under the $5 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services through the federal Affordable Care Act. Total project costs for the new center are about $9.1 million, up from the $7 million estimated last spring, due to the loss of redevelopment funding.
“Originally, the redevelopment agency was to grant/loan us the $2.1 million,” Johnson explained. “As you, know the redevelopment agency no longer exists and, since we were not in contract with the redevelopment agency, that funding opportunity no longer exists.”
To bridge the gap, Johnson said, the center is launching a capital campaign early next year, as well as reviewing its options for debt financing. The center has contracted with Neenan Archistruction, a Fort Collins, Colo., company with offices in Lodi, that specializes in the unique requirements that come with health center construction.
“Archistruction means that they will be both the architect and the builder of record,” Johnson said. “Neenan has completed a number of community health centers throughout the country and has the experience and expertise to design and build a facility that uses space efficiently and will allow us to convert space to medical or dental services as demand changes.”
The expanded center will include 14 exam rooms, classroom space for health education programs, offices for medical staff and a gathering space for community events. With the additional room, the health center will be able to treat about 45 percent more patients a year. This will become increasingly necessary as national health care reform unfolds, making more patients eligible for Medi-Cal and Medicare.
The health center currently occupies three separate buildings on West Napa Street, creating a hodge-podge design that is inefficient for staff and confusing for patients.
For years, the center has searched for the funds to move to Boyes Hot Springs to be closer to its largest patient base, which came closer to fruition thanks to the $5 million grant.
After a long search, the property on Highway 12 was selected once MidPen Housing Corporation came on board to develop affordable housing on the same plot. The Sonoma County Community Development Commission held the first right of refusal on the property, but was eager to restructure the agreement to allow the health center to move forward.
“When the Redevelopment Agency was still alive, our plan for that property was a mixed-use development of the lot … to include affordable housing,” said Kathleen Kane, executive director of the Community Development Commission. “We no longer had any funds because redevelopment was dissolved, so we were happy to sign off on the health center’s proposal.”
The change allows the center to begin applying for the needed permits from the County’s Permit and Resource Management Department to stay on schedule. They will also need to have lot lines adjusted to designate the health center, affordable housing complex and commercial space; as well as change the zoning from a low density, planned community to an administrative and professional office designation.
“Either simultaneously or soon after lot line approval, we would need to ask them for a general plan amendment, asking for the zoning to be changed,” Johnson said.
Currently, the entire plan at 17310 Sonoma Highway is dependent on each piece getting the needed approvals and funding. If the health center, affordable housing project or commercial development projects fall apart, either due to lack of finances or county approval, none of the other projects will be able to move forward. MidPen has applied to the county for funding, a request that goes to the Board of Supervisors on Nov. 13 (see more in accompanying story on A1).
“This plan hinges on funding from the county,” Vailetti said, adding that it is critical for the proposal to move quickly to preserve the health center’s grant. “I’d hate to see the health center loose that $5 million grant. That is a once in a lifetime opportunity for them.”