By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The old Cherokee High School has sat vacant since last summer, but a proposal could see the new Cherokee Indian Hospital located there. Casey Cooper, Cherokee Indian Hospital CEO, related that the hospital needs to expand by around 24,000 square feet to meet expected patient increases by 2015. The current facility is 58,350 and a facility master plan completed in 2007 states that it needs to be increased to around 81,000 square feet.
A meeting was held the night of Tuesday, Mar. 9 to take public input and comment on the proposal. Due to technical difficulties at the Council House, the meeting was unable to be broadcast live and it was decided that another meeting would be rescheduled in the near future. But, the information was provided in a presentation by Cooper for the people in attendance.
Cooper said that renovating the existing structure would cost $43.48 million and take from 48-60 months. Leveling the high school and building new on that site would cost in the ballpark of $26 million (based on cost comparables in Greenville, SC and Greenville, NC) and take 12-24 months. “What we’d like to do is provide the health care that this community deserves in a state-of-the-art space.”
Expansion at the current site is problematic. “The foundation of this building will not support a second story,” Cooper said. “Going up is not an option.”
One advantage of the high school site is the grade. “It’s flat. We want flat.”
Charles Penick, EBCI tribal member, said renovating the existing structure doesn’t make sense fiscally. “It doesn’t seem like a fair investment for me. Twenty-four thousand square feet for a $44 million investment seems a little unfair to me.”
He also said that expanded spaces means expanded staffing requirements. “When you’re talking $44 million, that’s not the end price tag.”
Penick suggested moving the existing Tribal Bingo operation to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and constructing the new hospital on the Bingo site.
Kathy “Rock” Burgess, an EBCI tribal member from the Wolfetown Community, suggested the Wal-Mart site, located on a hill adjacent to the current hospital, as another possible site. “What’s more important, a Wal-Mart or our health care?” She said any planning for a new hospital should be done looking 20-30 years into the future.
Cooper related that another possible location that has been explored for a new hospital is the Cow Mountain Property located at the intersection of Hwy. 19 and US441. “The acreage is there, but like the majority of acreage in this community, it goes straight up.”
Brenda Norville, an EBCI tribal member from the Snowbird Community, commented, “Tribal Council funds these projects and they need to make sure the health needs are taken care of first before a new facility. I can’t see putting a dime in a new facility when we have people who need things.”
It was decided that another public meeting would be rescheduled so the presentation could be aired on Cablevision.
Due to a meeting in her home community, Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy was unable to attend the meeting but commented, “Anything we can do to improve our health care, we absolutely need to do and if that’s the best solution for that school, then we need to seek what funding we can and turn that into the finest health facility that we can.”
She did say that if the decision is made not to convert the school into a new Tribal health facility, then something needs to be done as soon as possible. “Don’t let the building deteriorate. We need to do something quickly, either way.”
Dr. Mickey Duvall, EBCI Planning & Development director, stated, “At the request and direction of Principal Chief Hicks and EBCI Tribal Planning Board, the Planning & Development Team is in the process of finalizing the Cherokee Community Input Phase of the Retail Market and Land Schematic Study for the Qualla Boundary.”
He continued, “So far, we have presented the study to the Big Cove, Birdtown, Painttown and Yellowhill townships. To date, we have received a wide array of public comments regarding the use of the old Cherokee High School site. Suggestions and ideas, proposed by Tribal community members, regarding possible uses of this facility include: government consolidation, convention center, Arts Institute, Cherokee Small Business Incubator (including booths for Cherokee artists), and possible Hospital campus.”