It's a building boom for Sacramento region's veterans hospital

07/27/2013 12:00 AM

07/29/2013 6:56 AM

The Sacramento region's veterans hospital is undergoing its largest expansion in more than a decade, adding a parking garage and three medical buildings to expand rehabilitation, mental health and outpatient surgery services.

In addition, as many as 160 housing units for veterans are proposed for development near the facility at Mather.

The Sacramento Veterans Affairs Medical Center's new buildings have been planned since 2010 or 2011 and they're sorely needed, said Tony Wong, the chief of engineering projects for the VA's Northern California division. The number of patients seen at the facility jumped from 16,000 to 23,900 from the 2011 to 2012 fiscal years.

Filling "the gaps" in veterans' needs is "a huge process," Wong said.

He's overseeing between $50 million and $100 million worth of construction and renovation work at VA clinics and hospitals in California. Of that, he said, $30 million to $40 million is being spent at Sacramento's 50-bed facility.

The building boom is one of the largest since the VA began operating the hospital in 1998, and has drawn on the services of several veteran-owned construction firms around Sacramento.

"I've never seen an explosion like this before," said Tony Castaneda, a project manager who has worked at the medical center since 2003.

The building closest to completion is a rehab facility for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and is set to be finished next month.

The building is designed to have a low environmental impact: the carpets, the materials, even the construction waste are recycled.

For patients, the rehab facility includes rooms with appliances that disabled vets can use to help refamiliarize themselves with domestic life. There are offices for dietitians, orthopedic surgeons, audiologists and neurologists.

"Traumatic brain injuries need a certain type of care," Castaneda said, referring to a common injury among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. He said everything from the paint color to the lighting was designed to put patients at ease.

Two other medical buildings are also going up, along with a three-story, 230-space parking garage. One, a facility for veterans with mental illness, will have 16 inpatient beds available when it is completed in January, said Tara Ricks, a spokeswoman for the medical center.

The single story, 12,000-square-foot building is being constructed with a stronger steel frame and foundation than is necessary so that a second floor can be added if it's needed later, said Rod Rickert, project manager for two of the buildings under construction. The parking garage can also accommodate another story.

The third building is an outpatient surgery center. Workers are installing drywall in the building, which is two stories and includes a second-floor waiting room with a glass wall and 20-foot ceiling.

The medical center's master plan also calls for a building for gastrointestinal medicine, which is to be built opposite outpatient surgery, said Wong. Projects years down the road include expanding the hospital's emergency department and building an extended-care facility.

Wong said one of the VA's priorities is to replace its temporary trailers, which "have been around for a while."

"They're very expensive to maintain," said Tom Morris, the VA's planner for Northern California.

Just blocks away, the Mather Veterans Village housing development is being planned for veterans and a limited number of families.

Two of the $30 million project's three phases were approved Monday night by the Rancho Cordova City Council.

Reed Flory, housing services administrator for Rancho Cordova, said the city plans to break ground on the project sometime after it receives a tax credit next June.

The housing development's funding is still not cemented, however.

Though city housing officials anticipated applying for a tax credit in July to help pay for the project, they will have to do so next March. But they're not worried.

"It ended up being a good thing because the state has released some grant funds that we didn't know were coming down the pipe," said city housing specialist Jessica Hayes.

Call The Bee's Jack Newsham, (916) 321-1100. Follow him in Twitter @TheNewsHam.

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