By Shereen Siewert

WAUSAU — Officials at North Central Health Care are vowing to work with southeast side residents who sounded alarm bells after plans for an adult care facility and youth hospital were announced last week.

Marathon County in 2018 approved the master plan for the $73 million facility upgrade, which includes a new nursing home and aquatic center at its Wausau facility, 1100 Lake View Drive. Bonding for the project was approved in June.

But some residents were taken aback when they received notification from Wausau’s city planning division that a public hearing related to the renovation was set for March 19 — well before the plans were unveiled to neighbors.

Some neighbors questioned why only a handful of residents even received Wausau’s notification, as per city policy. Typically, only property owners within 200 feet of a planned project area receive such notices, which is why so few residents were aware of the hearing.

Maggie Schoenfeld, a resident of the southeast side who for years worked at NCHC, said she and others she has spoken to understand the increasing need for AODA and crisis services, critical issues the upgrades are meant to address. Their biggest concern, aside from what they see as a lack of communication about the plan, is the proposed location of the adult facility and youth hospital. The current plan being reviewed shows those buildings would be located toward the front of the facility.

NCHC CEO Michael Loy said the organization initially planned the buildings to be located toward the back of the property, but fiber optic line and other utility complications made that a less desirable spot from a financial standpoint. The plan went through 12 revisions before the current plan was selected.

Still, Loy said the organization will go back to the drawing board if necessary.

Loy spoke Monday at a meeting of the Southeast Side Neighborhood Group to discuss the plan, explain the need for the project, and to reassure residents that the organization understands their concerns and will work to mitigate them.

Several residents told Wausau Pilot and Review they are not yet convinced. But Schoenfeld said she is hopeful that a solution will be reached and that the good relationship between NCHC and the neighborhood will prevail. A full copy of Loy’s presentation is embedded below.

After Tuesday’s public hearing, the clear expectation is that NCHC will be back with a revised general development plan which shows the relocation of the two buildings in question – addressing the neighborhood residents’ concerns.

Katie Rosenberg, who represents Dist. 1 on the Marathon County Board of Supervisors, said she was pleased that she and her neighbors were given a more robust look at the renovation plans at Monday’s neighborhood meeting.

“It helped add context to the information that was already out and it helped assuage some fears about what’s ahead,” Rosenberg said. “Most of all, the meeting and discussion showed neighbors that leaders hear their concerns and are responding.”

On Thursday, March 21, NCHC will give a presentation on the plan to the full county board at the Marathon County Courthouse. The meeting, set for 7 p.m., will be streamed online here:

No decisions will be made at Thursday’s meeting, but public comment will be accepted.

Rosenberg and Dist. 1 Wausau City Council Representative Pat Peckham are also hosting a Dist. 1 meeting from 9 to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 23 at the Wausau Downtown Airport, 725 Woods Place. Loy will be at the meeting and available to speak to residents, though an exact time is yet to be determined. Details will be posted on the event’s Facebook page here:

Rep. Pat Snyder will also attend.

Loy tells Wausau Pilot and Review the organization will continue to listen to residents and tweak the plan. Even if the youth hospital and adult CBRF facility plan need to be worked on, Loy said, construction on the aquatics facility and nursing home tower can move forward as scheduled. A groundbreaking is tentatively planned for June.

Rosenberg said the county board’s approval of the master facilities plan was a bold statement that showed commitment to fulfilling the county’s statutory, strategic, and moral responsibilities to the community.

NCHC has two input sessions scheduled to discuss the plan with residents. The sessions are from 5:30 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 4 and on Thursday, April 11 at the NCHC Theater, 1100 Lake View Drive. Attendees should use the red flag entrance.

Top image: Courtesy of NCHCNCHC Preliminary Design Presentation – March 2019(1)