Union pension fund invests $22M in Coquille hospital

Union pension funds will be used to help build a new $30 million hospital in Coquille.

The AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust (HIT) is investing $22 million to construct a 60,000-square-foot, three-story building adjacent to Coquille Valley Hospital. The new facility has been designated a “critical access hospital” because of the need for medical care in the timber and farming community located 81 miles southwest of Eugene.

The new hospital will be roughly double the size of the existing structure. It will have 18 beds with private rooms and house primary medical departments, including surgery, obstetrics, therapy, laboratory, a pharmacy, an emergency room, and room for expansion of out patient programs. A 9,000-square-foot covered parking structure also is in the blueprint.

The construction project will be 100 percent union-built under a project labor agreement between the Lane, Coos, Curry, Douglas Building Trades Council and The Neenan Company, a Colorado-based design/build firm. It is expected to create approximately 225 construction jobs.

The project couldn’t come at a better time, as unemployment in the union construction trades in the region sits at nearly 40 percent, according to Pat Smith, secretary-treasurer of the Building Trades Council.

“Our members appreciate that the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust will invest in this project and provide considerable construction work for local area union members,” Smith said. “We commend Coquille Valley Hospital and The Neenan Company for choosing to build this new hospital responsibly.”

The Building Trades Council credo has always been to “build responsibly.” Several years ago it turned its focus on elected officials, encouraging them to pledge to look for “responsible contractors that pay a living wage with fringe benefits” when using tax dollars on new construction or renovation.

Smith said labor immediately reached out to hospital executives after learning of their plans to build a new facility. The discussion initially was about project labor agreements, but evolved into financing. “One thing led to another and everything fell into place,” Smith said.

Coquille Valley Hospital spokeswoman Jenny Silva said the hospital probably wouldn’t have been built without the AFL-CIO Housing and Investment Trust involvement. “It might still have happened, but it would have been way down the road.”

Coquille Valley Hospital opened in 1969. The Coquille Valley Hospital District was certified under federal law as a Medicare critical access hospital in 2003. Silva said the new medical facility is not a new wing or expansion of the existing 25-bed hospital. She said once the new hospital is completed, the old one will be used for medical and health related services and/or education.

The project has resulted in several “firsts” for the involved parties. It is HIT’s first investment in Oregon and its first time utilizing Build America Bonds. The bond program was introduced in 2009 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to stimulate the economy. It expired at the end of 2010. It also is the first project labor agreement ever signed by the Lane, Coos, Curry, Douglas Building Trades Council or The Neenan Company.

AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust Investment Officer Chris Shaw called the project a “win-win because it will bring needed medical care to the community, while creating jobs and stimulating the local economy.”

Shaw said the union construction jobs generated by the hospital project puts the HIT on track to achieve its goal of creating 10,000 union construction jobs by this spring. To date, the HIT has committed over $695 million for 29 projects representing nearly 9,000 construction jobs and $1.5 billion of development.

The Coquille hospital is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2012.

(Editor’s Note: Nurses at Coquille Valley Hospital are represented by Oregon Nurses Association.)

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