Originally Published: November 10, 2017 6:02 a.m.
The Northern Arizona Veteran Affairs Health Care System is one big construction zone right now thanks to a more than $30 million federal investment in what is a major upgrade and expansion of the agency’s facilities.
And more is expected in the next couple years.
Veterans and visitors who drive onto the 164-acre campus off Highway 89, near the intersection with Highway 69, are likely to spot the beginnings of what by the fall of 2018 will be two flagship expansion projects, both slated to cost just under $10 million each.
Over the summer, the center was given a $1.5 million face lift. Inside there will soon be a new, 3,000-square-foot spinal cord injury unit to accommodate a rising number of patients in need of those specialized services. The existing radiology department is also slated to be upgraded with a new look and added equipment as part of a combined 5,000-square-foot renovation and 8,000-square-foot expansion to start next summer. Pricetag: $10.2 million.
“These are the big, sexy projects,” declared Chief of Facilities Terry Boyd, noting the VA has also been awarded another $3 million to handle some non-recurring maintenance upgrades that will range from the installation of 300 exterior lights to nurse call systems and infrastructure improvements.
The first new structure located just beyond the main entrance to the Bob Stump Medical Center is a two-story, 17,870-square-foot outpatient laboratory and pharmacy building to replace what now is much smaller, interior space that offers limited privacy and waiting space for patients. The contractor for the job is Briston Construction LLC, a disabled-veteran-owned small business in Mesa selected through the VA’s federal bidding process.
“If you say, ‘Ouch,’ everyone is going to hear you,” Boyd joked of the current facilities.
To the side and rear of the main medical center, adjacent to the VA’s Community Living Center, is what will be the new Sterile Processing Service, a two-story, 18,400-square-foot complex that will meet federal environmental regulations as well as provide area for supplies and an expansion of rehabilitation medicine for CLC patients. The contractor for that project is Vetcon LLC in Prescott.
The VA is also in the design phase of a 10,100-square-foot expansion of its warehouse facilities in the rear of the campus. The expectation is for construction on that $5.4 million project to begin by year’s end.
Come 2019, the VA hopes to fully renovate the 120-bed Domiciliary, an in-patient rehabilitation facility for those with mental health and addiction issues that is now housed in one of the campus’ oldest buildings. Pricetag: $9 million.
“We have a lot of long-term plans,” Boyd said.
At a time when many VA facilities are experiencing cutbacks or closings, Boyd and Public Information Officer Mary Dillinger said this is a real coup for patient care in Prescott. They said it speaks to a combined need to modernize aging facilities on the historic property as well as manage growth in the region’s veteran population.
Last year, the VA in Prescott was serving some 26,000 veterans across northern Arizona and in one year that has grown to some 29,000 patients.
Efforts to secure the money to build these projects started almost five years ago, Boyd explained.
The VA’s last major construction process was a $7 million new, outpatient mental health care facility up on the far hill near the Fort Whipple Museum. That building opened three years ago.
“Construction does put some extra stress on the veterans,” Boyd admitted.
To assure patients will not miss appointments due to detour delays, and the loss of 42 spaces in the front parking lot, the VA has hired two full-time shuttle drivers to complement the volunteer drivers. These operate continuously throughout the week.
As for campus aesthetics, Boyd said he is working with a team of architects to maintain the late 1800’s integrity of what once was Fort Whipple. About half of the campus’ 60 buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“There are many new projects happening at the medical center to improve patient care for our veterans and we just ask for your patience during the construction because we believe the end result will be worth it,” said VA Chief of Staff Dr. M. Keith Piatt.