Will the King’s Daughters’ Hospital and Health Services abandon downtown Madison after more than 100 years’ presence, leaving a huge hole that will be almost impossible to fill?
You say that my opening sentence there was obviously slanted against the presentation made by hospital CEO Roger Allman and others at their public presentation on the issue this week? Well, their presentation was obviously slanted the other way.
KDH has been a good neighbor to Madison’s residents in many ways during its more than a century of existence. But a move to the hilltop, on the excuse of lack of space downtown, aging infrastructure, cost, and other reasons given at Tuesday night’s meeting, would prove to be a disastrous blow to downtown Madison. I’m convinced of that.
I don’t question the sincerity of Allman and other KDH officials; I think they really believe a re-location to the hilltop is best for all concerned. But let’s look at some Madison history here.
Once upon a time, when even I was young, all the important offices, agencies, and businesses in Madison were located downtown. That was because Madison’s city limits stopped at the foot of the hills.
Then old North Madison was annexed by the city in 1952. Presto, suddenly the city of Madison had much, much more room to build and expand.
Within about eight years, a new, Madison Consolidated High School had been built on the hilltop, and the old Madison High School on Broadway was vacated. This move was probably unavoidable; the old school was bursting at the seams with Baby Boomer kids, and there was really no place available downtown to build a new structure.
Ten years later, the junior high kids followed the high school ones to the hilltop. Then the Social Security office and the License Branch fled the downtown. The school administration office, which was the old high school building remodeled, left Broadway in the 1990s for its present location on Wilson Avenue. In recent years, downtown Madison lost Eggleston as a public school; not enough kids left downtown anymore to warrant two schools.
And now, the last important facility in downtown Madison (not counting the courthouse, jail and City Hall, of course) appears poised to follow all the others in shaking the dust of downtown from its shoes.
Not enough space downtown, KDH says. They seemed to be very good at obtaining more space for the past two decades or so, buying up private residences until they had displaced most of an entire neighborhood. Prior to that there were two or three major expansion projects since the 1960s. If people too young to remember, or who have not lived in Madison that long, could see photos of the KDH facility as it existed prior to those projects they would be amazed at how small it was. How much more does KDH have to expand?
The timetable given for retrofitting of the existing building — no completion until 2016 — sounds exaggerated to me. Would a renovation and retrofitting REALLY take four years longer (and cost $30 million more) than construction of a whole new building?
And as Dean Adams has said in one of his blogs, would Allman’s assurances that offices would remain in the existing KDH building really pan out in the long run? Doesn’t anyone think that pressure would soon build after the completion of the new hospital to move the whole kit and kaboodle to the new location, and the devil take downtown Madison?
The point I’m trying to make here is not just about King’s Daughters’ Hospital and its officers, who I believe as I said above are honorable men and women wanting to do what they think is best. It’s also about our downtown — Old Madison, the original part of this river town, which is hovering perilously close to abandonment by all the powers that be in the community. If KDH goes to the hilltop, then it will be that much easier for another public facility to flee. Will it be our next jail? Some said the new one should have been built on the Madison State Hospital grounds in old North Madison. How about the courthouse? City Hall? The police station?
What will be left in the downtown one of these days? Only taverns and antique shops? A departure of KDH, a huge facility that employs by far the most people of any downtown, might start a giant suction effect. Things of this magnitude don’t happen in a vacuum. Sometimes when you pull out one thread, a whole sweater unravels.
Think about it, folks. Where do we draw the line as our downtown slowly bleeds away?
Old Corporal <firstname.lastname@example.org>