Peralta gives support to Miller hospital

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The president of an Oklahoma City-based architectural firm announced he has been negotiating with Lovelace Health Systems to bring a hospital to Los Lunas.

Darin Miller, the president of Miller Architects LLC, announced he and his company have been negotiating with Lovelace for "well over" nine months.

Miller made the announcement via telephone at Wednesday's Peralta council meeting.

At the meeting, Peralta town councilors unanimously voted to draft a letter of support for the hospital project in Los Lunas.

"Now that we have a business plan in hand, we are in very specific terms that basically are in the form of a final management contract," Miller said. "So, (a formal announcement will be made) when we are both mutually comfortable with that, which is going to be sooner than later."

Miller said he has "a contract in hand" to purchase a 23-acre site west of Interstate 25 on N.M. 6 in Los Lunas.

The proposed 110,000-square-foot hospital project budget is estimated to cost $55 million, with $31 million in construction, $11 million for equipment, $6 million in operating start up costs, $5 million in fees and financing costs and $2 million in contingency for any unexpected changes during design and construction.

The project is anticipated to create 500 local construction jobs and 450 full-time hospital jobs.

On Wednesday, Miller told councilors his company wants to use the county-generated mill levy money in order to give investors confidence that the community supports the project.

Voters approved a mill levy in November 2006, a tax that goes toward operational and maintenance costs of a future Valencia County hospital.

Los Lunas Village Councilors Amanda Perea, Gerard Saiz and Charles Griego also attended the meeting.

Ralph Mims, economic development director for the village of Los Lunas, hospital project consultant Bob Davey and Miller received similar support from the village of Bosque Farms last month.

The group visited the town of Peralta in mid-November to garner the same support.

According to Mims, the group has received letters of support from the Jubilee community in Los Lunas, Huning Ranch Homeowner's Association, the Valencia County Chamber of Commerce and 20 residents.

Miller said his company is trying to be thorough in the process of putting pieces together for the project. He said residents have been critical of the process, saying it has been secretive rather than out in the open.

"The real story is we are trying to be pragmatic and we are trying to make sure we are dotting every 'i' and crossing every 't' before we come out and say all of our big plans," Miller said. "Our next step is that we have a solid contract with our provider. We want to make sure we tie down the property.

"I think both of those are fairly close. Once we do that, we are in a very good position to present in front of the county commission."

Miller said there could eventually be satellite sites after he was asked by Councilor Leon Otero.

Peralta Mayor Bryan Olguin jokingly asked Miller if "he could get that in writing."

Miller said different insurance plans would be accepted at the future hospital.

Olguin asked Miller why his company came to other municipalities instead of coming to the county commission first.

Miller said he wanted to show that there is community support for the Los Lunas site.

Valencia County Commissioner Donald Holliday also attended the Peralta meeting, but didn't seem convinced that a hospital project could get done in Los Lunas.

He said N.M. 6 is a major concern with the village's inability to widen the road due to buildings with a historical designation.

Holliday said he has "been lied to" over the years, and isn't sure Davey, of Placitas, should be a consultant on the project.

Davey is the former president of Valley Improvement Association and the Valencia Health Commons board of directors.

He was one of several people who served on a commission-appointed county hospital advisory board formed shortly after the mill levy was passed.

"I can't figure out why someone in Placitas is telling us what to do with our money," Holliday said. "I just don't understand that. (I don't know) if there's nobody smart enough here in our community to do it?

"I'd like to see the man (Davey) out of the picture, myself. But I believe he's dug his heels in."

At one point, Holliday made reference to a comment made by a fellow county commissioner at a Valencia County Commission meeting several years back in regards to the hospital project.

He said the commissioner, who he didn't name, claimed there should be a solid plan before residents were taxed by the mill levy.

"By God, two months later we were taxing the people," Holliday said. "There were no plans, no nothing. It was, 'Let's get their money and then we'll decide.' That was wrong. This whole deal has been wrong since we voted on it."

Mims told Holliday that Miller has the right vision for a hospital in Los Lunas.

At one point, both men stood about 10 feet apart from each other with Mims saying he and his wife, a physician, visited a site of Miller's in Oklahoma.

He said the visit was a great experience. Mims asked Holliday if it sounded good, and Holliday replied by raising both arms in doubt.

Los Lunas Councilor Gerard Saiz said that the village has the infrastructure to support a hospital on the site.

Councilor Griego added that the congested roadway could be solved by another route to the hospital such as Camelot Boulevard to Morris Road.

Holliday said he wants residents to have a hospital that is in operation for years to come.

"I just want to make sure it's here and stays here," he said.

Miller is expected to be at the next Valencia County Chamber of Commerce meeting at 11:30 a.m., Wednesday, Dec. 19, at Weck's in Los Lunas.


-- Email the author at bruffner@news-bulletin.com.