AUGUSTA — Utility costs in the new regional hospital in northwest Augusta are expected to be less than half of the current bill.

The Alfond Center for Health, which will combine inpatient services of MaineGeneral Medical Center’s Thayer campus in Waterville and the East Chestnut Street hospital in Augusta, is scheduled to open Nov. 9.

Hospital officials sought to meet requirements for a silver certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, program created by the U.S. Green Building Council. They will end up getting a higher, gold certification for health care facilities, said John Scott, project manager on the construction site.

The neighboring Alfond Center for Cancer Care, which opened in July 2007 — before health care-specific standards were in place — received silver certification.

“Currently our utility costs for our main campuses are $7.80 per square foot,” said Paul Stein, MaineGeneral Medical Center’s chief operating officer. “At the Alfond Center for Health, we anticipated costs to be $3.27 per sq. ft. This is due to our LEED design that includes efficiency in heating/cooling systems, a tight building envelope, low-water-flow technology, LED (light-emitting diode) outside lighting, high-efficiency light fixtures throughout the facility, and the availability of natural gas.”

The energy-efficiency label reflects real dollar and resource savings. Predictions early on were that the building would use 12 million fewer gallons of water and $900,000 less in annual heating and cooling costs.

At least one of the factors in gaining an energy-efficiency certification is visible from the air: the white roofing membrane.

“The intent of the white roof is to reflect off heat,” Scott said. “It makes the building a little easier to cool. The theory is that — at least in the city — a black roof holds heat; the white roof is intended to mitigate it.”

Chris Russell, project manager for G&E Roofing Co., Inc., of Augusta, which did the hospital roofing, said insulation is important as well.

“First of all, the roof has to be insulated properly, which is a very significant factor in energy savings regardless of color, and this hospital is certainly insulated properly,” he said.

He said Hannaford supermarkets specify white roofing on new buildings and replacement roofs, and G&E Roofing does that work for most of their buildings.

“White roofs have been the trend for the past couple of years,” he said.

While safety lines remain on the hospital roof and workers continue on the outside landscaping, the painting, flooring and installing of fixtures continues on the inside.

The 192 private patient rooms are shaping up with some almost finished at the new hospital under construction in north Augusta.

Most of those rooms use an innovative new design with a sliding door allowing unimpeded access to bathrooms and European showers, which will accommodate both wheelchairs and a caregiver.

“The sliding door is all about patient safety,” Scott said. “It allows us to put hand rails all the way to the toilet.”

Each room has ceiling tracks for patient lifts.

A window in each room reaches almost to the floor so patients can be in bed and still see the outdoors.

Stein said studies have shown that increased natural light reduces patients’ need for pain medication, and the light improves staff satisfaction.

The hospital will be tracking patient safety and satisfaction scores to grade the success of the innovations in design.

“We’re putting all those things to the test,” he said.

Both he and Scott said many of the innovations at the new site resulted from extensive planning and research into how things are done at hospitals across the country.

“We’re hoping that five years from now, people don’t see too many misses,” Stein said.

The 640,000-square-foot building is expected to be substantially complete Sept. 1, when staff orientation will begin.

Stein said $1.4 million is budgeted for training for staff members and clinical departments on the new technology.

“We’re bringing two different inpatient and service departments together,” he said.

He said some of the new technology already is being used in the existing hospitals.

Hundreds of donors toured part of the new regional hospital for a special preview last week.

Many of them were in the glass-walled public education area, which can be set up to seat 300 people and has a demonstration kitchen. That room — which can be subdivided into smaller rooms — will be available for meetings for nonhospital groups as well.

“We’re really excited about opening it to nonprofits so we start driving people to the facility not just when they’re sick,” Stein said.

Initial plans call for schoolchildren to be among the earlier visitors for education programs on proper nutrition.

The construction and equipment costs of the new hospital are estimated at $312 million.

Once the regional hospital is opened, MaineGeneral Health — the parent organization — expects to focus attention on its Thayer campus in Waterville, which is scheduled for a $10 million renovation beginning in January.

Betty Adams — 621-5631
badams@centralmaine.com