DeKALB – Hospital leaders laid out more details at back-to-back public hearings Thursday on a proposal to build a $46.4 million health and fitness center on the Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital campus between DeKalb and Sycamore.
Hospital officials first spoke at a public hearing before the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board and later at a hearing for the DeKalb County Planning, Zoning and Building Department. At the hearings, two residents raised concerns about how the health and fitness center would affect the adjacent Kishwaukee Family YMCA, neighboring properties and traffic in both DeKalb and Sycamore. A local trade group publicly backed the construction project and the jobs it would create.
Northwestern Medicine wants to build a 111,105-square-foot health and fitness center on vacant land. Northwestern’s proposal calls for a two-story building at 626 E. Bethany Road on the hospital campus.
At the state review board hearing, hospital leaders emphasized the health benefits of the proposed center.
“With the development of population health management, a key component of the health care reform, our role has expanded beyond caring for people just when they are hurt or sick, but taking a proactive role in keeping people well,” said Dr. Michael Kulisz, chief medical officer for Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee and Valley West hospitals. “ ... As a health system, we recognize that in order to be a relevant resource to patients in their total health, we have to address their needs beyond traditional doctor and patient interactions.”
Two residents who attended both public hearings had questions about the hospital’s plans.
“Can DeKalb afford another nonprofit, nontaxable fitness center built right next door to our current YMCA building, where residents young and old currently enjoy affordable programs regularly?” DeKalb resident William O’Neill said.
O’Neill asked about how the project would affect traffic and drainage in the area. He further suggested the nonprofit hospital should voluntarily agree to pay a portion of public service costs as part of a payment in lieu of taxes arrangement. As a nonprofit, some of the hospital’s buildings are exempt from paying property taxes.
Barry Schrader, a DeKalb resident, also suggested the hospital pay some type of impact fee. However, he suggested the fees go to offset revenue the Kishwaukee Family YMCA stands to lose when a new health center with similar facilities is built next door. He said a 2013 consultant’s report showed that the YMCA stood to lose $292,000 in the first year the hospital fitness center opened. Projections in the report indicated the Y, which also is a nonprofit organization, could see 5 percent of its members switch to the hospital health and fitness center. Schrader said that figure was too conservative.
No one from the YMCA attended the hearings. Kishwaukee Family YMCA CEO Mark Spiegelhoff previously said the organization had known about the hospital’s plans for years and was prepared for some members to move to the newer facility.
Matt Swanson, president of the DeKalb County Building and Construction Trades Council, said the $46.4 million project would serve as an “economic stimulus” by providing needed jobs for the group’s members.
At the second public hearing, the hospital was seeking a variance from DeKalb County zoning requirements. The proposed building is more than five times the maximum building size of 20,000 square feet allowed in the county’s Business Conservation District.
Charles Cloutier, the hospital’s director of planning and construction, said that type of zoning ordinance was designed to push large businesses into incorporated areas. However, he said that 40 years ago when Kishwaukee Hospital was formed by the merger of two local hospitals, leaders purposely decided to move to the unincorporated DeKalb County location outside of boundaries of both Sycamore and the city of DeKalb.
“They made an intentional and deliberate decision to not be located in the city of Sycamore or the city of DeKalb, so they would not be appearing to show favoritism,” he said. “That was a very thoughtful decision; unfortunately, it occasionally puts us in an unorthodox position that we run a very large operation in an unincorporated area.”
Cloutier also pointed out that a variance had been previously granted when the 250,000-square-foot hospital was built. Three hundred twenty parking spots are planned for the health and fitness center, he said.
County Hearing Officer Dale Clark will make his decision on the zoning issue in writing. At Thursday’s hearing, he didn’t give a specific date as to when that would be done.