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Mercy discusses Energy Center Project with neighbors

by Matt Marquardt –

MASON CITY – Mercy held a neighborhood meeting Thursday evening in its Cancer Center to discuss a possible construction project that would affect some homes on the north side of its property along 1st Street SW and South Linden Drive.  Mercy has been working on the concept since the Fall of 2011.

According to preliminary site plans, 1st Street SW would be re-routed north and roughly 10 homes owned by Mercy would be moved, salvaged or demolished to make way for a new energy plant and docking area for trucks.  The current docking area is not up to code and is “sub-standard” according to Hal Hudson, Mercy Construction Services Director.

“We want to clean up the ills of what we have now,” Hudson said.  “We know the north side of the hospital is a mess.  We are quite fortunate we have not seen an accident.”

(PHOTO: Mercy’s service area on its north side along 1st Street SW.  Mercy wants to “re-organize” this area and expand.)

The new energy plant would be located approximately just north of the corner of South Talyor Avenue  and 1st Street SW and will be “cleaner” and “quieter” Hudson said, following city code or if possible exceeding the standards.

Hudson says that a power-outage at the hospital is major concern.  He said this new energy plant “solves Mercy’s power issues.”  Mercy would become “self-sustained with the new generator.  We need to be self-sufficient.”

The “new” 1st Street SW would be 26 feet wide and not allow parking.  There would be sidewalk along the north side of the street and possibly some type of fence and a green buffer zone south of the homes on West State Street.  Trees would be protected as much as possible during the construction.

The project could start as early as Spring of 2013 and wrap up by the end of 2014, in two phases.  Basically, the process would be to install utilities, re-route and build the road system, install green space, and then build.

Neighbors in attendance expressed many concerns.  The asked if any other sites had been looked at for the project.  Hudson said yes, but the preferred location in the plans he presented was ideal due to the proximity to current utilities on Mercy property on its north side.  He explained it is cost-prohibitive to build the energy plant farther away from current utilities.

One man in the audience said “I feel like we are collateral damage.”

Other concerns from neighbors were sound, off-street parking by current Mercy employees, snow removal, the routing of traffic, bright lights, property values and other aesthetics.  Still another concern was the designation of the neighborhood as a historical place, and the affect this project would have on that.

Hudson and his team did a fair job of answering all the questions neighbors asked, and offered to hold all the neighbor meetings necessary to alleviate their concerns and work through the process.  He offered to bring in some neighbors to participate and have input in the design process as the project moves forward.

Mercy needs to acquire no more property in order to move forward with this project.  “We are re-organizing what we already have,” Hudson said.

However, Mercy has several hurdles to climb before any ground can be broken:

•Street Vacation/Purchase Agreement
•Zoning Change Approval
•Development Plan Approval
•Building Permits
•Title 4 Air Emissions Permit
•Budget Approval

The next steps in the process are:

•Hold additional community meetings as needed
•Evaluate input received
•Present to Planning and Zoning at the August meeting (tentative)

See Mercy’s preliminary plans for this project, here.


Energy Center Project Meeting Questions

Trees are shown on the plan, are they or existing old growth oaks?
It is a combination of both. We will do everything possible to preserve the existing trees including protection during the construction operations.

With the number of trees taken down, what will the increase to utility costs be?
I cannot answer that. We will work on preserving as many trees as possible in the 35’ buffer area and planting new replacement trees as part of the plan, realizing it will take a long time to grow.

Describe the fencing?
From discussion last evening, we will want to get input on the buffer plan an this is not final. Please email me know if you would like to be a part of this process.

How much car and truck traffic will increase on State and Linden?
Our preference is to have the street as a private drive however from the discussion last night, a traffic study will be needed in order to evaluate the impact. At this point it would be casual observation so I cannot answer that.

How much more truck traffic is expected when the project is completed than what there is now?
At the completion of phase one (energy center), there would be little change. At the completion of phase 2, some semi traffic would replace the current smaller straight trucks but we would not be a huge increase, most of the traffic is on the campus now. The overall traffic would be less if it were to be a private drive. A benefit is much better organization with service vehicle parking without impacting the street.

How will the new road and its traffic effect parking on Taylor?
As we discussed last night, the larger trucks would enter and exit east and smaller traffic to the west on Taylor.

How will the parking demand change at McAuley Hall and how will it be alleviated?
Our longer-term plan is to have McAuley Hall be staff offices requiring less parking demand and moving the Residency to a more efficient location with improved parking access.

Will Taylor be widened?
This is not part of our plan.

What is the projected exit traffic pattern for the trucks once on Taylor?
This will change do to 1st Street not being aligned as many trucks went straight to Pierce Ave. We believe smaller trucks can still do this; larger trucks will take the east route. We need to develop signs/instructions for drivers per the suggestion last night.

Will the new utilities building have a roof?

What is a chiller and how much noise does it make?
This is equipment that makes cold water used for air conditioning. This equipment will be inside of the proposed building with no noise outside. The outdoor cooling towers (gray units by the oxygen tanks, will continue to be located in this area, away from the new Energy Center.

Is the generator for emergencies and how often will it rum? How much noise?
Yes, the generators are for emergency power and sized to power the total facility. We can go off of Alliant’s system to help in the event of a high demand period (extreme heat or a system failure). We estimate 16 hours per year for testing and service and possible 30 hours for the high demand periods. Note testing will be done during the day with the new technology available. Noise will be below the city code of 65db. We will have an acoustical engineer on the team looking at a full spectrum analysis.

Is the generator diesel?

What is the construction timetable and how will it affect traffic?
If we receive approvals, we would start in early spring and finish late 2014. We will need to develop temporary access accommodations at all times for service and emergency traffic. This also includes the shared driveway on the east end of the street. This plan has not been developed yet. That is in part why the construction schedule is so long.

When will the construction day begin and how many days per week?
We would want to start at 7:00 or 7:30 am; we can dictate that to the contractors. There is considerable utility work in the project and some off-hour work may be needed in order to minimize disruption. Weather will also play a role but we will be respectful of those close to the project.

Will any of the houses on 1st St. be saved and moved?
Great question, I would prefer to move the houses. We will need to evaluate tree damage on the routes out of Forest Park…a difficult balance. At a minimum, we would allow Habitat for Humanity to salvage materials. I am not sure of the availability of infill lots and demand for moved homes at this point.

Can there be a neighborhood rep on the Mercy Board?
I can pass this question to our senior leaders, I am not sure of the process of board assignments.

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