By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Land leveling and other site preparation could begin on the site of the future Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi as early as September.
Officials with A2H, an engineering and architecture firm working on the project, appeared before the Lafayette County Planning Commission on Tuesday to get preliminary approval on the site plan. Although the entire site is expected to be annexed into the City of Oxford and thus be removed from county review, it lies partly outside the city, and the annexation is under appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
If all approvals are met, leveling on site, which now is laced with hills and ravines, could be completed by November. After letting the soil settle over the winter and early spring, road construction and foundation work for the planned five-story hospital could begin next May.
“We’re going to begin the project with grading of the main building site and parking fields, grading of Belk Boulevard from South Lamar to Old Taylor,” said Andy Reynolds, a landscape architect with A2H. “After that will be the widening of Old Taylor, and the last part of that will be the realigning of existing Belk.”
As currently planned, Belk Boulevard will be extended from South Lamar Boulevard across the new hospital site to connect with Old Taylor Road. The hospital will be built inside a closed-loop road with three ingress/egress points with Belk. Emergency entry is on the northwest side and main public entry on the northeast, but A2H principal Pat Harcourt said that design could be reversed.
Owners of nearby property outside the city were invited to the meeting, but a number of city residents, alerted by Alderman Janice Antonow, also attended.
Some who said their homes are already threatened by flooding were little comforted by Reynolds’ and Harcourt’s assertions that Baptist’s plan includes a diversion channel that will send some upstream water away from the residential area and a detention pond that will slow runoff from the 150-acre hospital site.
Others, who live in condominium developments northwest of the construction site, were concerned about increased noise and rerouted traffic.
“I own a condominium … which backs up to green space right now,” said Jan Cauthen. “It looks like, within 15 feet of my back door, I’m going to have a major, four-lane thoroughfare. … There could be some consideration provided to the people directly affected.”
Planning Commission Chairman T.J. Ray pointed out that none of the topics in question were under the commission’s authority but allowed the concerned citizens to vent their concerns nevertheless.
Antonow suggested officials from A2H and Baptist meet informally with area residents to address such concerns before the June 10 presentation of the site plan to the Oxford Planning Commission.