Hospital helipad idea scratched from Rockville project
By Jason Rowe
VERNON - The plan to include a helipad for Rockville General Hospital as part of a new downtown transportation center looks unlikely to get off the ground.
Because of a change in the federal agency overseeing a $6.53 million grant for the project, a landing pad for the Life Star helicopter cannot be included in the project, Town Administrator Laurence R. Shaffer said Monday.
Officials had floated the idea of designing the project to include a helipad, which would allow medical helicopters to take off and land adjacent to the hospital without disrupting traffic, businesses, or residents on nearby Union Street.
Under the present setup, helicopters take off and land on a ground level pad located at the rear of the hospital's parking lot.
In the past, nearby residents and business owners have complained about dirt and debris kicked up as a result of the helicopters, which take off and land roughly 20 times a year.
But town officials recently were notified that the Federal Transit Administration and not the Federal Highway Administration would administer the $6.53 million grant.
But the FTA's procedures do not make provisions for helipads, so that facet of the project appears to be grounded, Shaffer said.
Although the helipad concept appears derailed, Mayor Ellen L. Marmer said she hasn't given up completely on the idea.
But even if they are unsuccessful, Marmer said, the helipad has never been considered a crucial component to the project.
"Parking in downtown is the centerpiece of the project," Marmer said.
Meanwhile, in order to use the federal money, Shaffer said the town would have to provide a 20 percent match.
That will likely break out to about $250,000 a year over a period of five years.
Shaffer said that money would likely come out of the town's annual capital improvements budget.
Marmer said "in kind" town services could also be used to cover the matching requirement.
While designs for the facility have not been finalized, past concepts for the new transportation center have included a multi-level parking garage with an enclosed bus stop.
Officials have considered placing the center on land now occupied by the parking lot of 33 W. Main St., home of the new adult education center.
But no site has officially been selected as the home of the new transportation center.
Although the concept of a transportation center in downtown Rockville was first broached during Republican Diane Wheelock's mayoral administration, the project was kicked into high gear in August when U.S. Rep. Robert R. Simmons, R-2nd District, announced the federal grant.
That money was part of a $286.4 billion transportation bill signed into law by President Bush during the summer.
Since the announcement, town officials have been working behind the scenes to develop a procedure for receiving the money and planning the facility.
On Friday, Shaffer said, he met with representatives from the Greater Hartford Transit District to discuss their potential involvement in the new center.
Town officials are working on a plan to have the transit district receive the federal money and pass it on to the town.
This should help cut down on the federal bureaucracy that mires many municipal projects that involve grant funds, Marmer said.
Once the administrative work is complete, Shaffer said, the town can begin formal planning for the project, including site selection and a final determination of what services will be included.
That phase should begin within three to six months, Shaffer said.
"We've got some base issues that we need to finish before we start talking about siting," Shaffer said. "Once we get to those issues, that's a fairly substantive planning process that we'll go through. I think this project has the ability to transform out downtown if we do this right."
©Journal Inquirer 2006