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Future of Medical Center hinges on multiple variables

by Sam Richards

Staff Writer

 

Wednesday, March 27 (9:00 a.m.): There has been much conversation in recent months centered on the former medical building that GRF owns near the Rossmoor Shopping Center. Most of it has focused on moving Mutual Operations Department (MOD) offices there, and whether the now-empty medical building is in good enough shape to renovate for that purpose.

Despite all the talk, and a $160,000 study, no decision has been made on whether moving MOD or other GRF departments to a remodeled medical center building will even happen. Rossmoor General Manager Jeff Matheson said such a decision by the GRF Board is probably six to 12 months away. Several variables, he added, could affect the direction that the Board ultimately takes. “There are so many pieces that are intertwined,” Matheson said. “It’s not happening tomorrow.”

Berkeley-based ELS Architecture and Urban Design has been doing a “space use study” (tinyurl.com/2e9cfmxh) of which GRF departments could go inside a remodeled 30,000-square-foot medical center building at 1220 Rossmoor Parkway, built in the early 1970s. Ann Mottola, GRF’s community services director, said the current map of proposed office use there will almost certainly change.

But even though some structural work at the onetime John Muir Health clinic building will be needed, and basic items like the roof, heating and cooling units and even the inside walls will need to be refigured and replaced, the amount of work needed for moving GRF offices into the building isn’t believed to be prohibitive.

“We’ll need to know what geotechnical solutions we’ll need. … But this absolutely can move ahead,” Mottola said.

Ongoing study of the building David Masenten, a principal with ELS, said the medical center building was built on soils that expand and contract seasonally. Another firm, Rockridge Geotechnical of Emeryville, is surveying for any rise or fall in the existing building slab during each season to understand the building’s anticipated movement over the course of a year.

“Half of the building was upgraded many years ago with steel driven piles, and to the best of our knowledge, that section of the building appears stable,” Masenten said in an email.

If the Rockridge study determines that part of the building slab is moving seasonally, the GRF could choose to reinforce that part of the building with “helical piles,” stabilizing anchors sunken straight down into the ground.

The half-century-old building also has some deferred maintenance issues, as would be expected with a structure that age, Masenten said.

The top need for renovating the medical building, GRF officials say, is as a new home for MOD. The MOD offices complex at the top of Rockview Drive hill is also home to GRF’s IT, Human Resources and Accounting departments, as well as Public Safety and Trust Maintenance managers. Over time, it has become cramped and shopworn and has been prone to flooding.

To sell, or not to sell …

In 2019, John Muir Health declined to renew its lease of 1220 Rossmoor Parkway beyond the end of 2020, opting instead to move that operation into the former CVS drug store space in the Rossmoor Shopping Center a short distance away.

The GRF Board decided to sell the building, saying that bringing the facility up to current medical facility standards would cost up to $6 million.

The building was almost sold twice; in 2020, one prospective buyer who proposed turning the building into a residential care facility for seniors backed out, citing the “uncertain regulatory environment for senior facilities as a result of the COVID pandemic.”

A subsequent prospective buyer could not obtain the funding needed to buy the building. In May 2023, soon after that second sale fell through, the GRF Board took the medical center off the market and approved a study to determine whether the former medical building could practically be renovated and remodeled to fit GRF needs. The Board approved spending up to $160,000 from the Trust Estate Fund to retain ELS and Rockridge to do those studies.

The 30,000-square-foot medical building could host more than the offices now in the 12,000-square-foot MOD office building – Matheson said it could also be a new home for many Rossmoor departments, including those housed in the Gateway administration building.

Counseling Services likely would remain at Gateway, and Rossmoor TV, the Rossmoor News and perhaps others would stay where they are as well. But Matheson and Mottola say moving as many GRF functions under one roof as possible both creates a onestop- shopping experience for residents and could improve the working synergy among GRF departments.

There are still significant unknown variables out there, Mottola said, including the results of a current food and beverage service study of what Rossmoor residents want and would support.

Might Gateway and/or other Rossmoor facilities become home to a new restaurant or café? It won’t be known until later this year whether that’s practical, or even desired, Mottola said, and that could affect what would move into the old medical building.

GRF’s Facilities Master Plan now includes replacing the MOD building, with an estimated price tag of $17 million. Both Matheson and Mottola said that 10-year plan would need revision if moving GRF offices to the medical building is eventually approved. The cost of renovating the medical center, Matheson said, isn’t known yet. During a presentation about the space study to the Board earlier this year, ELS representatives said renovating the medical center building for staff use likely would be less expensive.

With its offices moved, the old MOD footprint could become revenue-generating office space for contactors who routinely do business in Rossmoor, Matheson and Mottola said.

Another benefit to keeping the medical building, Matheson said, is that it is GRF’s only notable asset outside the gates.

If any of Rossmoor’s three outstanding loans gets called in, and cash had to be generated, major assets within Rossmoor – the Event Center, for instance – can’t practically be sold to an outside interest.

The medical center, Matheson said, “is the only facility we have that has value as a secured asset.” Nonetheless, he said, there’s still a lot to figure out before any big decisions are made. “We really need to do a lot more analysis of the opportunity cost of rebuilding MOD, or selling it,” he said.

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