The Northfield Hospital Campus

The Northfield Hospital board of directors and St. Olaf College are working together to develop a medical campus designed to meet the needs of the citizens of Northfield. Hospital administrator Ken Bank and St. Olaf president Mark Edwards met during the process of site selection for a new medical campus. Edwards observed that the criteria established by the hospital board fit St. Olaf land north of the campus. The board's stated goal was to develop a site that would be central to the ambulance service area and in Dakota County. A location in Dakota county would ensure that the metropolitan county Medicare reimbursement rate presently available to the hospital on a year-to-year basis would become permanent. One area hospital recently lost this reimbursement rate at a cost of approximately $750,000 per year. While other sites throughout the community have been discussed, none have met these requirements set by the board.

Early in the process Bank, city administrator Scott Neal, and Pete Sandberg, director of facilities for St. Olaf, contacted Greenvale Township to discuss the site, sixty acres just north of the campus on 330th Street in Greenvale Township. Because annexation would be necessary in order for the city to serve the site with utilities, the parties wanted to be sure that the township knew everything as early as possible.

At nearly the same time, the Northfield Retirement Center was contacted and neighborhood meetings setup so that the center and neighbors could all hear the issues. It became apparent that the traffic ramifications needed to be understood and that studies should initiated immediately. The hospital board, city, and college jointly commisioned a traffic study and several meetings were held in conjunction with this work.

The 60 acre site is to be leased to the city for a 60 year term, with two 20 year extensions possible. The lease rate is keyed to that of local agricultural land, meaning that the line for land acquisition that had been identified in the project budget could be available for other aspects of the work. While the lease agreement has been signed by both parties, its execution remains contingent on the completion of a development agreement between the College and city.

The lease aspect of the project has been troubling to some because the land and anything on it do revert to the College at the end of the lease. The nature of non-profit depreciation accounting means that good planning will leave a well-used, fully depreciated facility on the site at the end of the term, and the financial interests of the city will have been well protected.

Several issues came to the fore quickly:

  • A link connecting the site directly south to Highway 19 seemed important in order to help reduce traffic to the site through the NW neighborhoods

  • Some re-routing of Dakota County Road 23, known most often as Cedar Avenue, so that it might connect directly to Highway 19, looked important in this regard.

  • Improvement of 320th Street from Dakota 23's turn south into Northfield, east to Waterford and Trunk Highway 3 became important in order to get ambulances out into this quadrant of the hospital's service area and help reduce traffic through the NW neighborhoods.

  • North Avenue needed to be improved all of the way west to its connection with Highway 19

  • What are the College's stated positions regarding road alignments? At several formal public hearings and other public meetings the College has stated that:

  • St. Olaf is not in favor of Thye Parkway, an east/west collector shown on the Northfield comprehensive plan, that bisects St. Olaf lands just north of the medical campus site

  • St. Olaf is in favor of improving 320th Street east to Waterford

  • St. Olaf is in favor of moving Dakota County 23's traffic away from the NW neighborhoods. While a more direct connection has been discussed, the College has been on record for many years as favoring Decker Avenue, a farther west N/S road, as the best location for this connection. We have stated this several times in public hearings, and further stated that we believe Dakota County will determine where this connection ultimately happens.

  • St. Olaf is in favor of developing a link from North Avenue near the hospital site to Highway 19, and has offered to make the right of way available

  • What's in all this for St. Olaf?

  • St. Olaf gets no free benefit from the extension of utilities to the medical campus site. Sewer and water access charges will be applied to college lands as they are platted for development just as any other land holder would experience.

  • St. Olaf does get a neighbor that is compatible with the College mission, that is, a non-profit organization that is in service to its communities

  • St. Olaf does choose to retain ownership of the land because it is a signifigant part of the resources of the College and the College wants to ensure that others who might develop portions of the site have similar values to those of the hospital and College

  • St. Olaf has spent many thousands of dollars in preparation of surveys and other documents that the college has no intention of collecting from anyone

  • St. Olaf has never implied that there are any quid pro quos in this relationship. The College does not wish to influence hospital services or administrative style in anyway

  • St. Olaf is not trying to drive the medical campus to this site; the College is simply trying to help make this project happen for the Northfield community. The site actually conflicts somewhat with the College's own campus framework plan. If the hospital board decides to change their criteria and look to another site, St. Olaf will simply continue on with the plan that has been in place for the land

  • There simply is no hidden agenda

    A master annexation agreement between the city of Northfield and Greenvale Township has been approved. The agreement will sopecifies that 205 acresmay be annexed from the township over the next five years. The portion of the agreement that is specific to the medical campus is contingent on the completion of a development agreement between St. Olaf and the Northfield Hospital.

    In addition, the hospital board has engaged consultants for a study that will look at the possibilities for various partnering arrangements. An overture from one system prompted this study and it is hoped that the work will help inform the overall planning effort.

    The city of Northfield recently advanced a request to Dakota County to consider including improvements to Dakota County 23 in their five-year capital improvement program. The county recently acknowledged this request and has said that they plan to initiate a planning effort in 2001. They propose forming a partnership that will include Rice and Dakota Counties, Greenvale and Bridgewater Townships, and affected landowners. THey go on to say that partnership agreement on project scope will be necessary before any programming is initiated.

    Citizens of the township and city and have expressed concerns about aspects of all of this and they need to be acknowledged and responded to. St. Olaf feels that there has been substantial, positive, dialogue regarding the roadway alignments, and that some good things have come out of the discussions. Improvements to 320th Street are in the near future. This portion of road not only helps provide better vehicular movement for a medical campus, it also allows for the future development of an outer ring road system that could help with several long-term traffic issues in the community. There seems to be hope that some version of a realigned Dakota County 23 will evolve in a cooperative effort between several government entities, Northfield, Dakota County, Rice County and Greenvale and Bridgewater Townships. This piece will also be a signicant improvement to community and regional circulation.

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