EVANSTON — The Evanston City Council gave its final stamp of approval to key aspects of the proposed 9,000 square foot medical speculative building project at its Dec. 18 regular session. A lease agreement with project partner High Country Behavioral Health, an agreement with Myers Anderson Architects for the design of the facility and authorization for the city to purchase the acreage in south Evanston that will be the site for the building were all given the nod.
City clerk Jim Davis opened a public hearing on the matter by speaking of what city staff believes are benefits of the project to the community.
“As you know, this has been a long, long, long, ongoing process,” Davis told the council about the project. “We did receive a grant from the Wyoming Business Council in June of this year. The total project budget for this medical spec building is $2,303,760.”
Davis asserted there are a number of reasons why the city believes completion of the project will prove to be an economic boon to Evanston and the surrounding areas.
“This project touches one of the long-established businesses in our community, the Wyoming State Hospital,” Davis said. “Today, there are 400 jobs provided by the Wyoming State Hospital, which play an extremely important role in the economic arena for this community. Over time, similarly-related mental health businesses have been established in Evanston, many of which have filled service gaps that the hospital has been unable, for various reasons, to implement or meet.”
Davis said the construction of the medical spec building will help fill those gaps, ensuring job security and job growth in the future.
“There’s a clear shortage of medical office space in this community,” Davis continued. “When we wrote the grant, we researched this out, and there is a lot of office space and retail space that is vacant. As you drive through the community, it’s really evident the recession has hit; you can see a lot of office and retail space. But there is not a lot of available medical office space. This medical spec building will allow High Country to be more efficient with their building to provide services. Increased efficiency leads to increased profits, and increased profits lead to further investment in current jobs, as well as the potential to add and grow new jobs.”
Davis also indicated lease payments High Country makes to the city during the five-year lease agreement period will provide income for further economic development projects.
Under the lease agreement passed by the council, High Country will provide up to $1 million for the construction of the building. If they exercise their option to purchase the building after the lease period is completed, they will be credited back their $1 million investment, plus their lease payments, toward the purchase price of the facility.
According to city attorney Dennis Boal, if High Country declines to purchase the property following the lease period, the city will be obligated to repay, without interest, the company’s $1 million investment.
High Country director of operations Carl Harris also spoke during the public hearing. He suggested the construction of the spec building will allow them to bring in new community-based programs. Harris also suggested such new programs would also necessitate the addition of staff positions in Evanston.
“These are very good jobs, with very good, sustainable wages and benefits for the people we employ,” Harris said. “Part of what we have in the area as well is a great need for nursing care, and as the capacity in our programs increase, there is also the potential for increases in some of the nursing services we provide.”
Harris said High Country at times serves as a “funnel” for patients discharged from the state hospital who wish to stay in Evanston.
“We work with the state hospital in discharging those people into community-based apartments,” he said. “Part of that discharge planning is for us to deliver those community-based services for those people.”
Harris noted the new facility will include space for day treatment options for these patients.
The tract of land for the project, at the corner of Overthrust and Yellow Creek in south Evanston, consists of three acres. The city is purchasing the property from the Yellow Creek Ranch Company for $150,000. The city will spend the balance of the $300,000 it has committed to the project preparing the property for use.
Myers Anderson Architects will, under the terms of the approved contract, be paid nine percent of the construction cost or valuation of the work for their services.
Other council business:
• The council approved a move of its January 2013 regular sessions to the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month — Jan. 8 and 22 — to avoid their first meeting falling on New Year’s Day.
• The board gave its OK to a memorandum of understanding with the Evanston Parks and Recreation District for the implementation of its fitness program for city employees.
• Councilors approved a request to submit an application to the Wyoming State Forester to be recertified as a “Tree City USA” community for 2013. Kevin Murphy, parks manager and arborist, said the city has been participating in the program for 14 years, and has planted 7,000 trees during that time.
• The council approved the final plat for the Bourne Addition minor subdivision, along Bear River Drive, on property owned by David and Peggy Bourne. The Bournes wish to subdivide the property into two lots, so one of them can be sold, according to a city staff report.
• The panel approved an agreement with Youth Opportunities Unlimited! to act as a fiscal agent to administer a $75,000 grant received from the Daniels Fund for the YOU! program.
Councilors Tim Lynch and Chris Thatcher was absent from the meeting.