There was plenty of interest and a few major complaints at a Tuesday information session about the mixed-use hospital complex Upper Chesapeake Health is planning at I-95 and Route 155 in Havre de Grace.
Traffic was the main concern for the roughly 125 people who attended the presentation at the Havre de Grace Community Center, held by Upper Chesapeake officials.
The new facility will largely be just a modernization of the existing Harford Memorial Hospital, not a trauma center or even a significantly larger hospital, hospital officials said. Once it is built, another use will be found for the Harford Memorial property in the city's downtown.
Most residents who attended seemed amenable to the project, agreeing with Upper Chesapeake leaders that Harford Memorial needs to be replaced.
One man in the room, Peter Ianniello, drew a round of applause when he thanked Upper Chesapeake for investing in the community and for trying, in this economy, "to actually have such a forward-looking project."
Ianniello lives at Mount Felix Farm near where the new hospital is planned.
"Thank you for continuing to invest in Havre de Grace," he said.
Glenn Cook, vice president of the Traffic Group, said traffic improvements will be a major part of the project, as Bulle Rock Parkway would ultimately become a four-lane road between the project site and Route 155.
A signaled intersection would also be made at the ramps to I-95 and the highway intersection would ideally be re-structured, Cook said.
"Right now it looks like the hospital can be built without major improvements to the road," he said, explaining improvements will happen after the hospital is built.
Some residents had a problem with that.
One woman said the city had "unfortunately" had not planned for the kind of growth that happened, and while a new hospital is important, road improvements are key as well.
"We do need [the hospital] and it's great, but can't you do something for the community to build the infrastructure first to make it easier to live with the building?" she asked about the construction.
Harford County Executive David Craig attended the meeting, as did several other government officials.
Harford County Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti said she is living on Lapidum Road, not far from the hospital site, and is "obviously" very concerned about traffic.
"I am concerned about the piecemeal approach to road improvements," she said, hoping to prompt the Upper Chesapeake Health representatives for a more detailed description. "I think it's important to describe your phasing process and how that is permitted and how that triggers individual road improvements."
Several residents also called the traffic around the park-and-ride at the I-95 interchange "horrendous" and cited issues with Route 155 in general. Cook promised to address those issues.
The new facility would have between 84 to 116 beds, while Harford Memorial is licensed for 89, Dean Kaster, senior vice president of corporate strategy for Upper Chesapeake, said.
Shannon Kraus, of HKS Architects, noted that in its heyday, Harford Memorial had 300 beds.
The project's actual chronology remains uncertain, Upper Chesapeake President Lyle Sheldon explained.
"We don't know if groundbreaking is two years away, five years away, 10 years away," Sheldon, a Havre de Grace resident, said, explaining hospital officials want to get started on obtaining the necessary state and local permits, a process that typically takes considerable time.
He said, however, it will have a complete outpatient service, a full-service emergency room, a psychiatric unit and could possibly add acute rehabilitation services, explaining that residents now have to drive to Good Samaritan Hospital or farther to get the latter service.
Kaster said it would not make sense to replicate the obstetrics department at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air, which delivers about 1,500 babies each year, not enough to make a second facility worthwhile.
Prior to the opening of the Bel Air hospital almost a dozen years ago, Harford Memorial had provided maternity services, which were moved to the newer hospital.
Havre de Grace Mayor Wayne Dougherty said he was "really, really enthused" about the number of people in attendance Tuesday and said he likes the project.
"I was very glad to hear that, because Harford Memorial is probably aged out and we are in serious need of a modern facility," Dougherty said. "Harford Memorial is also one of our largest employers in the city of Havre de Grace and with this project, Upper Chesapeake will be adding to that employment also."
The new hospital complex will employ 650 to 700 people, Kaster said.