HOT SPRINGS – One day last week Ray Flesch, the chairman of the Eastern Sanders County Hospital District board, finally was able to sign a contract with a general contractor to build a new medical clinic in this small town.
The next day Flesch and his wife Sharon were outside working in their garden when a truck drove by carrying what, Sharon says, “Looked like pieces of the old clinic.”
They hopped in their vehicle and drove downtown.
Sure enough, Sharon says, “It was gone, just like that.”
It’s been only 10 months since the Flesches joined other volunteers in loading 54 old appliances outside a repair shop on a flatbed trailer and hauling them to Missoula to recycle.
A long, hard day of work netted them $550 to replace the community’s tiny, dilapidated medical clinic.
They still had $363,450 to go – and a March deadline to raise it by.
The town had to have that much money in the bank in order to hang onto a $450,000 Community Development Block Grant that would pay a little over half the cost of construction.
When they pretty much had it raised just days before the deadline thanks to a $50,000 donation by local 86-year-old resident Barb Gonder, they celebrated.
Not long after they opened the bids for building the new clinic, and were stunned to find none of the six companies bidding had come within approximately $100,000 of what they were able to pay.
Which is why the sight of a bare lot where the old clinic had once stood on a crumbling foundation was so welcome last week.
“The day it went down, everyone in town had a smile on their face,” Sharon says.
When the first bids were all too high, architect Raymond Cortner of Spokane, who grew up in Hot Springs, went back to the drawing board.
Cortner changed the heating and security systems and reduced a brick façade on the outside of the building to cover just the front.
Then, nervously, the hospital board opened up a second round of bidding. General contractor Western Interstate of Missoula – which had also been the low bidder the first time around – came in with a bid of $675,700, approximately $148,000 less than its offer in the first go-round.
They needed a bid to be in that ballpark, Sharon Flesch says, because there are other costs involved with permits, the removal of neighboring propane tanks, the architect and project management that must also come out of the $800,000 or so they had to work with.
The town is not only replacing its clinic, it turns out, but also the physician’s assistant who took care of its patients.
Al Shear, the longtime P.A. at Hot Springs Family Medicine, resigned after 18 years to accept a new position in Alaska. Nurse practitioner Sally Baskett of Dixon and Dr. John Drye of Clark Fork Valley Hospital in Plains are filling in while the hospital recruits a new physician’s assistant for Hot Springs.
He or she will have a beautiful new facility to work in, the Flesches say.
Meantime, patients are being served at a temporary location at 118 Broadway in the Century 21 Real Estate building. Offices and physical therapy are located inside the building, and Clark Fork Valley Hospital has supplied a trailer housing exam rooms.
Volunteers continue their fundraising – including the “tired iron” project that ultimately brought in tons of scrap metal and several thousand dollars – to use to purchase equipment and furnishings for the new clinic.
“The only bad thing that’s happened,” Sharon Flesch says, “is that a couple of guys have been going around to people saying they’re with the tired iron project who have nothing to do with us. I’m sure people think they’re donating to the clinic when they give scrap metal to these guys, but they’re not.”
She encouraged people to contact her at 741-3752 to verify whether their donations will go to the clinic.
The group is also selling raffle tickets to a bronze bighorn sheep head made by the late artist Bob Stayton that was donated by his widow and son. The bronze will be on display at various banks in the area, and tickets are $10, or three for $25, available by calling 741-2566.
The contract calls for the clinic to be completed within 270 days, although Sharon Flesch says they’re hoping it could open in six months.
“They sure got on it fast,” she says of the quick demolition of the old building.