IRIS SAMUELS/Kodiak Daily Mirror

Parking near the retaining wall at Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center is reserved for staff only. 

The Kodiak Island Borough Assembly voted to postpone a decision on a design project to repair a retaining wall on the Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center property, which is owned by the borough and leased to Providence.

The vote to postpone a decision to July 2 came as some assembly members were hesitant to invest in a design project, saying that hospital staff concerns remained unclear. However, borough staff members said that repairing the wall emerged as a clear priority for PKIMC administrators after years of discussions regarding the risk of falling debris from the wall.

“This wall could be repaired, rather than replaced, so here’s an opportunity to repair, possibly refresh an existing structure,” said Dave Conrad, director of the borough Department of Engineering and Facilities, during a regular assembly meeting held telephonically May 7. 

According to Conrad, if the assembly approved the repair, the borough would “not have to spend an inordinate amount of money trying to redo or build a new wall.”

The design project, quoted at $112,491, was recommended by Jensen Yorba Wall, Inc., an architecture firm contracted by the borough to examine long-term repair and renewal projects on the hospital property.

Conrad said the architecture firm believes the wall will become structurally unsound within two to five years. 

“They looked at multiple different scenarios, and they feel that this is the most cost-effective and timely method to improve the longevity of the existing wall,” Conrad said, adding that a survey of PKIMC administrators identified repairing the wall as one of their top priorities. “I believe we should listen to our long-term tenants, and listen to their concerns.”

Conrad said the structural integrity of the wall is compromised by alders and spruce trees growing out of the open face of the wall, the freeze-thaw cycle and migration of water into the existing structure.

“The evaluation is that the wall is sound. However, it is degrading,” he said. “Gravel has fallen from this wall from near the actual construction because of the open face design. The concern is the concrete that’s falling out, and also the lack of maintenance.”

While gravel has fallen from the wall since its construction more than two decades ago, concern over the structural integrity of the wall has intensified in recent years.

“Providence has previously allowed both patient and staff parking alongside the wall, but due to their concerns over liability, they only allow staff to park along that wall now, ‘for obvious reasons,’” said Borough Manager Michael Powers, quoting PKIMC CEO Gina Bishop. 

A representative of Providence declined to comment for the article. 

Assembly Members Rebecca Skinner, Dennis Symmons, James Turner and Scott Arndt voted in favor of postponing a decision to July 2. Assembly Members Duane Dvorak, Julie Kavanaugh and Andy Schroeder voted against the motion to postpone. 

“I feel that we need to hold off on this,” Arndt said, speaking in favor of the delay.

“We need to meet with Providence to discuss remodeling versus replacing. We have a lot of unknowns. We’ve only got so much money and the problem is, this is a major expense.”

But Powers said the design project is the result of ongoing meetings between borough and Providence staff members. 

“Borough staff and Providence staff have been meeting for close to five years regarding both the lease and the building itself. This project as well as numerous other projects on the building have been identified by staff,” Powers said.

“This is clearly one of their highest priorities for the property.”

Some assembly members said they were concerned about spending money on the repair project, because of other more costly repair needs for the hospital, which include replacing aging parts of the hospital structure.

“We only have so much money, and if we’re going to throw a bunch of money at this, we’re not going to have it to do other things that I think are more important,” Arndt said.

But Conrad said that the two projects should be considered separately, and that completing the wall repair project should happen sooner rather than later.

“If you look at the concrete degradation, you can see rebar in multiple locations,” Conrad said.

“If we can do a repair to this now, would that not save money in the future? I believe that’s a factual statement.”

There is currently $3.8 million available for renewal and repair projects at the hospital property, according to Conrad, who said that the coronavirus pandemic could open up additional funding opportunities in the future for hospital construction projects. 

“You’re going to see financial opportunities open that we may or may not be aware of now,” Conrad said.

“We need to get a hold of things and design them. If money becomes available, then we are that much farther ahead.”

Borough Mayor Bill Roberts admonished the assembly for voting to postpone the design project. Even if the design project is approved, work will likely not commence in the coming two years, he said.

“This wall falls underneath our agreement with Providence to maintain the building and the grounds. This is something they have stressed they want done,” Roberts said.

“I think that continually kicking this down the road is not the way to go.”

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