The Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) wants to buy the former Sitka Community Hospital Building. Now the Sitka Assembly must decide if it wants to sell the property. When the group met on Tuesday (11-10-20) it discussed the request and possible next steps.

SEARHC acquired Sitka Community Hospital in a merger in 2019, but the city retained ownership of the building. The consortium is currently leasing the building to house its long-term care unit. It also uses the facility to provide urgent care and rehab services. According to a letter from SEARHC CEO Charles Clement, the consortium’s interest in purchasing the building is tied to plans for future expansion.

Planning Director Amy Ainslie said that though SEARHC’s proposal to purchase the building is in its infancy, staff needed direction from the assembly before moving forward. Her first question — is the assembly even interested in selling? 

“We’re at the very early stages, and I think what we’re really asking is ‘Do you even want us to go down this road?’ Because there’s going to be a lot of work, both from staff, both from the applicant, to even start pursuing some of these processes that have to take place,” she said.

Ainslie said if the answer was yes, the assembly would need to decide if it wanted to seek competitive bids or not, and whether to put the sale out to an advisory vote in the 2021 general election or a special election. 

Most assembly members, including Rebcecca Himschoot, said they would need more time to consider the request.  

“I have a lot of questions, and I’m not even sure of where to get the answers so I think I need more time to even answer that fundamental question of ‘Should we sell it,'” Himschoot said. “I can see lots of pros and cons,” she said, and asked if there was any formal condition of the building or appraisal on file.

City Administrator John Leach said the most recent value appraisal the city had on file for the property was an insurance appraisal from 2016. 

Kevin Mosher said he’d previously been interested in the hospital as a potential new site for the Sitka Police Department, which has long expressed the need for a more modern building. 

“I have heard that that would be a very expensive endeavor,” he said. “If that’s a true fact, then I’d be okay to sell it, as long as it’s for a fair price.” 

According to Sitka’s city code, the assembly can sell property without putting it out to bid if it’s only useful to one party: the potential buyer. In her memo, Planning Director Ainslie said that exception could apply to the sale of the hospital building. But Mayor Steven Eisenbeisz said he wanted to examine that option carefully. 

“I want to make sure that whatever path we do go down, that we do it within our abilities, within the purview of the law, and that we do this as straightforward and above ground as possible,” he said.

“This is going to be a large issue for the community, undoubtedly, and so I want to make sure we give this the due diligence that I believe it does require.” 

The assembly agreed to set a special meeting specifically dedicated to discussion of a possible hospital building sale and allow for public comment. The meeting is set for Tuesday, December 1.

In other business, the Sitka Assembly:
Approved a new COVID-19 resolution ‘strongly encouraging’ several community precautions

-Approved a resolution reestablishing a Climate Action Task Force to advise the Assembly on methods for planning and mitigating the impacts of climate change

-Awarded $50,000 in FY21 General Fund grants to several local nonprofits

-Discussed the Request for Proposal for the development of the 17 acre waterfront parcel at 4951 Halibut Point Road 

-Approved the following liquor license renewal applications for Elks Lodge, Pioneer Liquor Inc., and the Pioneer Bar

-Heard an update on the CARES Act Working Group’s progress

-Approved the minutes of the two October 20 assembly meetings and October 27 assembly meeting

-Issued a proclamation honoring Veteran’s Day, and a citation honoring Elaine Strelow

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on 11-18-20 at 3:15 P.M. to include the scheduled date of the upcoming special assembly meeting on Dec. 1 to discuss SEARHC’s inquiry into purchasing the former Sitka Community Hospital building.