Children's Hospital to double number of beds, facility size

Children's Hospital & Regional Medical Center has announced ambitious plans to double the number of beds from 250 to 500, and to at least double the size of its core facilities in northeast Seattle.

The campus now occupies 880,000 square feet in Laurelhurst, an affluent, mostly residential neighborhood. Saturday, the nationally recognized hospital unveiled its preliminary plans at a neighborhood meeting to solicit community comment.

During the sometimes rancorous meeting, hospital officials told the approximately 200 people in attendance that the buildings have yet to be designed.

Their height and size is not known, nor has it been decided how many buildings will be constructed. Financial details were not revealed.

Enlarging the facility would allow the hospital to switch from two-patient to single-patient rooms, cutting the potential for infection, said Sanford Meltzer, the hospital's senior vice president of strategic planning.

It would also add capacity to meet future population growth, and increase space for additional patient-care technology.

Public meetings, planning and obtaining city permits will take two years. It could be two decades before the project is completed.

"This is really the beginning of an ongoing conversation with the city and the community," Meltzer said.

Last year the hospital admitted 12,325 children. Two-thirds had severe, chronic illnesses that required long hospitalizations.

Meltzer emphasized the need to "be creative in reducing the impacts on our neighbors" in the expansion plans.

They, in turn, peppered hospital personnel with questions about noise, traffic, size and other issues.

"Where will families of long-term patients stay? Where will the additional staff live?" asked Laurelhurst resident Jacques Peschon. "It's a domino effect that will affect the surrounding neighborhood."

Hospital officials promised to study the issues.

This isn't the first time Laurelhurst residents have voiced concern about the hospital's plans. A proposal to add an emergency helicopter pad incensed neighbors concerned about noise; it took years before final approval was granted.

A century old, Children's treated 13 patients its first year. Last year, 71,000 patients made a total of 222,787 visits.

Last week, the hospital announced the $43.6 million purchase of an entire downtown block for its Children's Hospital Research Institute. It already occupies adjacent buildings on Stewart Street.

A second public meeting will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. June 7 in the Laurelhurst Elementary School cafeteria, 4530 46th Ave. N.E.

Elizabeth Rhodes: