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Sanford unveils plans for $360M Fargo medical center

A rendering of the $360 million Sanford medical center planned for Fargo's western edge. Special to The Forum

FARGO - Sanford's new $360 million medical center will tower over the city's western edge and blend hospital and clinical care in a way executives say represents the future of health care.

Designs for the new center - featuring 11 floors and four wings with a footprint in the shape of an X - were unveiled Friday at Sanford's annual gala celebration in Sioux Falls, S.D.

"This is going to be the medical center of, kind of, the upper Midwest, based out of Fargo," Kelby Krabbenhoft, Sanford's president and chief executive, told The Forum. "It is going to be compelling."

The four wings will house the complex's four centers of excellence: heart care, children's, women's and orthopedics.

The 704,000-square-foot center also will include medical and surgical services, with beds for 371 hospital patients, 30 operating rooms, 40 rooms to treat emergency and trauma patients, and 300 clinical exam rooms.

The center will provide space for 200 physicians and 2,700 employees.

"It's going, I think, to transform the region's health care," said Lauris Molbert, a Sanford board member. "We think it's the largest project of its kind in North Dakota."

Plans call for breaking ground on the project, to be located near Interstate 94 and Veterans Boulevard, in 2013. When completed in 2016, the new center will serve as Sanford's main medical center in Fargo.

Being able to design a new medical center from the ground up provides a unique opportunity to more seamlessly blend hospital and clinical care in a way that is more efficient, Krabbenhoft said.

That integration of medical services is enhanced by the X-shaped center, which features what architects call a collegiate gothic style that is Sanford's signature look.

The new medical center and a $100 million breast cancer initiative, to include a new Edith Sanford Breast Cancer Center in Sioux Falls, wouldn't have been possible without the merger of Sanford Health and MeritCare Health, based in Fargo, in 2009, Krabbenhoft and Molbert said.

That was a point made Friday by Denny Sanford, the Twin Cities businessman and major benefactor to the health system that bears his name.

"This merger really created all the opportunities that you're acting on now," Krabbenhoft said, echoing remarks by Sanford.

Many of the details of the new Fargo center had been disclosed earlier, but the architectural renderings and a video animation released on Friday made the size and scope of the project more tangible.

"That's what today really means," Krabbenhoft said. "Today marks the first day that it's as official and real as the building itself."

Once the new center is finished, Sanford's downtown campus will be renovated in a $30 million project and will house, among other services, an expanded Roger Maris Cancer Center.

The renovated downtown medical center also will include a walk-in clinic, rehabilitation, behavioral health, palliative care and eating disorders care. It will occupy 200,000 square feet, with room for 220 beds and 2,000 employees.

Also, Sanford is planning a new clinic in east Moorhead with a price tag in the "tens of millions of dollars" that will include a wide array of outpatient services and expanded clinical space, Krabbenhoft said.

"We really believe the Fargo-Moorhead area has such potential for our developments," he said, adding that plans still are in the works for the new Moorhead clinic, to be located near Interstate 94 and 34th Street.

"We know we're going to put together a very compelling project," he added. "It's next on our list."

Altogether, Sanford's projects on the drawing board for Fargo-Moorhead exceed $400 million - two-thirds of the $600 million in projects in the pipeline, including new hospitals in Aberdeen, S.D., and Thief River Falls, Minn.

The new Fargo medical center represents the largest project Sanford Health has undertaken, and executives are thinking ahead to a second phase for the project, which looms more than a decade off in the future.

Sanford projects the Fargo-Moorhead metro area's population to grow at a rate of 7 percent a year, increasing to 16.6 percent by 2040, and is positioning itself to grow accordingly.

By 2015, Sanford expects to employ more than 7,178 to care for 200,000 people in Fargo-Moorhead. It currently employs 5,600, or one of every 27 people in the metro area.

With its interstate highway access, the new medical center will be more convenient for patients and their families, as well as employees. Almost 60 percent of the downtown patients come from outside the metro area.

Sanford's investments in medical infrastructure are complemented by donations the health system makes to further local economic development, including the $10 million it has pledged to help renovate the Bison Sports Arena.

"There's a compounding effect," he said, referring to the growth that comes from enhancing community services, including local universities and colleges, in partnership with other donors.

Krabbenhoft said his phone has been ringing with inquiries from other regional and national health organizations he would not name.

"We are getting called - and we are getting called by some significant names and significant organizations," he said.

He added: "We're cautions. We don't want to go too far, too fast," noting the significant growth and challenges already stemming from the merger.

"I sure would like to go through a period of some calm for the organization," Krabbenhoft said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522