By John Burton
FORT MONMOUTH – A former Army hospital on what was Fort Monmouth property could become a new private sector medical facility, if the state authority overseeing the fort property redevelopment eventually approves the proposal.
The proposal calls for AcuteCare Health Systems, headquartered in Lakewood, to operate a mixed medical facility and office complex on the site of what was once the Patterson Army Hospital and was later downsized to a Department of Veterans Affairs clinic.
The portion of the former 1,126-acre fort in question is located within the boundaries of Oceanport. Fort Monmouth was shuttered by the federal Department of Defense last September.
Eatontown Mayor Gerald J. Tarantolo and Oceanport Mayor Michael Mahon, who are both voting members of the state’s Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA), said AcuteCare operates out of Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch and Kimball Medical Center in Lakewood.
During its August meeting, FMERA accepted the company’s formal proposal to purchase the multistory building and some of the surrounding property.
The plan will now go before the planning boards of Tinton Falls, Eatontown and Oceanport – the former fort’s three host communities – for a determination and then on to each town’s governing body for input before returning to FMERA for its final decision.
The towns have 45 days to evaluate the proposal.
Representatives from AcuteCare did not return calls Aug. 29 seeking comment. But the company issued a press release, quoting the president, Daniel Czermak, who said AcuteCare would use a portion of the approximately 60,000-square-foot building to “offer frail and elderly patients nursing home-style services on an out-patient basis, as well as provide in-home health aides.”
This is something of a departure for the company, the release noted. AcuteCare has concentrated on operating long-term, acute-care hospitals within the confines of existing, established hospitals.
For the remainder of the facility space Czermak said he has contacted “some very reputable health-care providers” to “bring some outpatient services to the building.”
AcuteCare would undertake extensive interior renovations to the facility, the release said.
The price offered by AcuteCare, one source indicated, was “in the neighborhood of $3 million.”
“It is significant,” Tarantolo said about the proposal. It marks the second private-sector business entity to bring a plan before the authority to acquire fort property and, if approved, it would create private-sector jobs for the area.
AcuteCare said it would add as many as 200 jobs, if the plan is approved.
The other proposal, Tarantolo noted, was from CommVault, a high-tech software company, located in Oceanport, which is seeking to purchase 55 acres of fort property for $6.1 million for its operations. In the spring, the authority adopted a resolution to allow the sale to move forward.
“These are real, hard applications, that have expressed interest and we’re in the process of trying to negotiate arrangements for them to move into the Fort Monmouth property,” Tarantolo said.
“I have very little argument with it,” said Monmouth County Freeholder Lillian Burry, is also a member of FMERA, reiterating the authority’s mission is to bring about the redevelopment of the fort property for the economic betterment of the region. “I think we are actually seeing concrete, actual development with it and it’s just starting to pick up and I think we’re going to begin to see things start to move.”
Oceanport’s Mahon said he was “very cautious” about the proposal.
The concerns Oceanport has are that, while it would appear the project would be a potential ratable and bring jobs, there isn’t a business plan before the authority yet. Another point of concern, Mahon said, is the redevelopment master plan calls for the existing hospital structure to be demolished and the site to be used for residential development. He questioned that, if the authority amends its master plan, where would the housing then be located and what would that mean for the town’s public school and infrastructure?
Those are sticking points for Oceanport and resulted in Mahon voting against the master plan when it was adopted a few years ago.
“All these things in the shadows have to be considered equally,” he said.
The federal Department of Defense’s Base Realign and Closure Commission (BRAC) included Fort Monmouth in its 2005 round of base closing, supported by President George W. Bush and Congress. The state Legislature, in response, established FMERA as the official body to work with federal, state, county and local representatives to redevelop the approximately 90-year-old fort property, replace the jobs lost and offset the economic impact caused by the closing.