Spokane Journal of Business

Blue Room adds to rural hospital work

Small architectural firm designing medical center planned in North Dakota

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Spokane-based Blue Room Architecture & Design PS says it and its team of local consulting engineers is beginning work on the design of a $25 million replacement hospital in Bowman, N.D., a small town in the southwest corner of that state.

John McLean, who owns and operates Blue Room together with his wife, Alyson, who also is an architect, says the firm also will oversee the North Dakota project. Design documents are to be completed next spring, with construction of the hospital expected to start later next year and to be completed in 2016, McLean says.

The architectural firm, which has offices on the fourth floor of the Legion Building, at 108 N. Washington downtown, has experience in design work involving rural, "critical access" hospitals, and was selected for the North Dakota design project because of that expertise, he says. The firm also offers owner representation and project management services.

Critical access is a federal designation for rural hospitals that receive certification for meeting a number of Medicare conditions, including having no more than 25 inpatient beds. The certification enables them to receive cost-based reimbursement from Medicare, rather than be subject to standard fixed reimbursement rates.

McLean says the new 25-bed, 60,000-square-foot hospital in Bowman will be about a third larger than the 62-year-old facility it will replace and will offer primary care, emergency, acute care, lab, imaging, rehabilitation, and other services.

Operated by Bowman-based Southwest Healthcare Services, it will be constructed about four blocks from the current hospital, on the same campus as a long-term care facility also operated by Southwest Health Care, he says.

"One of the challenges the owner has now operationally is they operate from three different campuses, and we are essentially consolidating the three into one," he adds.

Beyond providing traditional architectural services, Blue Room also assisted in securing low-interest federal and state funding for the Bowman project, McLean says.

He says the condition of the hospital that the new one will replace is similar to that of critical-access hospitals serving other rural areas.

"They were all built post-war and are generally well beyond their useful and economic lifespan," he says. "They were never designed to accommodate the technology and practices associated with modern medicine. The fact that so many are still operating and passing state inspections is testament to the communities and staff that maintain them."

For Bowman, McLean says, "The timing couldn't have been better as far as interest rates, available funding, and the community's dire need to replace their 1950s facility."

He says the North Dakota town is strikingly similar to Davenport, Wash., the farm town located 33 miles west of Spokane in Lincoln County.

"It's traditionally been a very stable agricultural-based community, but recent energy-related economic growth has increased demand for services significantly," he says, citing huge investments tied to newly identified oil reserves west of town.

Among noteworthy projects in the Spokane area, Blue Room designed the $1 million reconstruction project for the Arbor Crest Winery Cliff House, which involved rebuilding the historic mansion that was gutted by fire in late 2009. It also designed Cancer Care Northwest's new $14 million multispecialty clinic in Spokane Valley, and currently is designing other replacement hospital projects in Oregon and Wyoming.

Although the eight-year-old boutique design firm employs just the two architects, it hires other professionals on a contract basis as needed and maintains strategic relationships with other architectural firms here, McLean says.

Kim Crompton
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