Grand County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) team member Brett Sherman prepared to head off on a call in late November 2017. Currently housed in three separate locations, EMS is looking to consolidate its operations in one place, and with a new facility near Moab Regional Hospital. [Moab Sun News file photo]

It’s getting more expensive to build new homes and other structures in the Moab area, and that trend is adding to the projected costs to build a new Emergency Medical Services (EMS) facility.

Grand County EMS Assistant Director Will Barnhardt informed the Grand County Council this week that the preliminary project costs have grown to $7.3 million – up from initial estimates of $4 million to $5 million. However, that number doesn’t include additional costs for roads and infrastructure – costs that EMS is hoping to finalize with a civil engineering report.

“This is higher than our initial expectations … partially due to those additional infrastructure requirements, but predominantly due to the premium cost of construction in the Moab area,” Barnhardt said in a memo to the council. “Unfortunately this premium, as reflected in recent construction costs, has historically only risen.”

It’s worth noting, he said, that the national Building Cost Index has been increasing by 4 to 5 percent annually in recent years: At 5 percent annual inflation, a building that would have cost $4 million to construct in 2014 would cost $4.86 million in 2018.

Still, Barnhardt sees at least one upside to the trend.

“While increased project cost is never a goal, it does provide for additional grant funding opportunities,” he said.

EMS officials are actively pursuing those opportunities, he said, and they plan to update the county council in late April with finalized project cost and grant estimates, as well as details about anticipated loans.

The station has been a long time in the making, Barnhardt said.

In 2014, EMS officials worked with architect James Dresslar to draw up plans for a training, crew quarters and administration building behind the current ambulance shed off 100 North.

At the time, the architect’s best guess of the costs was $3 million to $3.5 million. But that site plan was ultimately deemed unsuitable due to the inability to secure enough parking spaces to meet building code requirements.

Thanks to the generosity of the Canyonlands Health Care Special Service District (CHCSSD), Barnhardt said, EMS was able to resume planning and substantially reuse those plans on a new site behind Moab Regional Hospital. It added in $1 million for a new equipment bay that can hold 14 vehicles – up from the current number of seven ambulances, four quick-response vehicles and a disaster-response trailer.

The new facility would consolidate EMS operations that are currently scattered across three aging structures. In addition to an ambulance bay and housing for personnel, it would provide space for community CPR classes, EMS training and administrative facilities for the next 50 to 70 years, Barnhardt said.

Word of the higher cost estimates arrived just over one week before EMS officials were scheduled to submit an application that asked Utah’s Permanent Community Impact Fund Board (CIB) for project funding. Faced with different numbers, they decided to postpone their presentation until the CIB’s June 1 meeting, which gives the property’s owners more time to work out an agreement, according to CHCSSD Board chair Kirstin Peterson.

“It came in, I think, a couple million dollars more than they were expecting,” Peterson said during the CHCSSD board’s meeting on Thursday, Jan. 25. “So basically, they’re not going to be able to put the application in on Feb. 1, which takes a lot of pressure off of us to get all these property transfers and things figured out. It just gives us a little bit more time.”

Grand County Council chair Mary McGann said the project’s timeline is dependent on funding.

“I think they want to start it as soon as the financing is in place,” she told the Moab Sun News on Tuesday, Jan. 30. “Hopefully, if we get the CIB money in place, it will start next summer.”

EMS is hoping to build the new facility on land behind the Canyonlands Care Center, and just north of the cul-de-sac on Walnut Lane.

Moab Regional Hospital currently owns that land, but at some point, Peterson said, the special service district board will be signing an agreement with hospital officials to exchange properties. The district, in turn, would eventually transfer the cul-de-sac-area site to EMS.

“Essentially, the property that they currently own that EMS is hoping to be located on will be exchanged for some of our property of a similar or equal size that would be more valuable to the hospital for their future needs,” Peterson said.

To lay the groundwork for a land transfer, Peterson said that a draft agreement with the hospital has been prepared.

“But it would be really nice if we actually have all the complete dimensions of those properties and a survey and all sorts of stuff happen before we do that (transfer) – which we’re now moving forward on,” she said.

Peterson said she recently met with city officials to discuss the development of the property.

“They’re really wanting to redesign this future intersection (on the campus), and they came up with something that I wasn’t terribly excited about,” she said. “So after talking now with the city manager and the new mayor, we’ve come up with the idea that we’re going to get all affected parties together.”

District and city officials – along with a property owner in the area – were scheduled to begin discussions this week to start brainstorming about the best scenarios for the new EMS facility, as well as the bigger picture for the area.

“I think it’s a great way to go, and by having EMS not putting their application in, it gives us a little time to try to work that out into the best possible scenario, so I’m pretty excited about that,” Peterson said.

Care center resident numbers are up

Beyond the issue of the proposed EMS facility, Canyonlands Care Center Administrator Kim Macfarlane brought the CHCSSD board up to date on the care center’s operations.

All of the care center’s departments are fully staffed, and three of its Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) are currently enrolled in a Utah State University-Moab class.

As of late last week, the facility’s census was up to 32 residents – an increase from 27 residents at the time of the board’s previous meeting in December 2017 – boosting its occupancy rate to 89 percent.

“If we can stay right around 32 (residents), we’re kind of at the break-even point, depending on the mix,” Macfarlane said.

In an effort to keep its resident census numbers up – and provide a place where local veterans can receive quality care – the center has been working on a contract with the Veterans Administration (VA).

“It will be nice to have for our community,” she said.

Macfarlane had been hoping that the contract would be in place by Thursday, Feb. 1. But she said the VA rejected it due to a minor error in the wording that identified the special service district – an error that can be changed by adding a few words.

The care center is also exploring the possibility of seeking funds from the Utah Medicaid Nursing Facility Quality Improvement Incentive, which can be used to reimburse the facility for the costs of equipment, employee immunizations and online education.

“It’s an opportunity to capture some of that (funding) and improve our quality in our facilities, so we’re looking into that,” Macfarlane said.

Officials eyeing grant funding for project