By Amanda Johnson
NORWAY— Barbara Allen, head of community relations at Stephens Memorial Hospital (SMH), confirmed Tuesday that the hospital will construct a new medical office building on land that it owns behind Cafe Nomad on Pikes Hill in Norway—at the site of the former Cummings Mill. This could put a halt to Otisfield resident Zizi Vlaun’s idea that, with the hospital’s permission, part of that property might be transformed into a downtown park.
Besides constructing a new medical building, SMH plans to renovate the current Ripley Medical Office Building on Lower Main Street.
Norway Town Manager David Holt said that the mill property was purchased by Western Maine Health group, of which SMH is a member, about three years ago. Cummings Mill was originally supposed to be sold to a group based out of Portland, but when the deal fell through, it pulled out. The mill was then demolished, leaving a vacant lot in its place.
According to a press release from Allen, the estimated cost of both projects will be $10 million. Of that money, $8.2 million will be used for the new office building and $1.2 million will go toward renovating the Ripley building.
Western Maine Health Board Chairman David Preble said that the decision to move forward with the projects was a result of “lengthy review and analysis.”
“The shift of providing care in an outpatient setting rather than in a hospital continues to accelerate and this project will allow us to better meet this requirement,” he said.
Last Thursday at one of the introductory Healthy Community Gatherings meetings at the Center for an Ecology Based Economy, Zizi Vlaun, who is a member of both groups, discussed the town’s need for a park.
“We need a green space where people can be outside,” said Vlaun in an interview Tuesday morning, adding that she would be open to working with hospital so that part of its Pikes Hill property might be designated as a green space, even if it is next to the new medical office.
“We’d love to be able to work with [the hospital],” she said. “It could be a win-win for everyone.”
Vlaun said that other spaces downtown spaces in which a park could be situated included the plot of land to the left of the Norway Memorial Library and the green space behind the veterans’ memorial next to Cumberland Farms on Main Street. But, she said, both of the locations are likely too small. She now plans to work with Norway Downtown, a nonprofit group that is working to make improvements downtown, to brainstorm other possible locations—only if the hospital needs to use the entire Cummings Mill property.
Holt said that over the past few years, the town has invested time and money into creating green spaces, and that they haven’t been too much work for the town to maintain.
“Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think a park would be bad news,” Holt said. “But someone would have to pay to maintain it. The town can’t keep paying to maintain green space.”
Holt hopes that the new medical office bring life to what is now a vacant lot.
The proposed medical office building will be about 25,500-square-feet and will accommodate Oxford Hills Internal Medicine and merge the primary care practices of Western Maine Family Practice and Oxford Hills Family Practice. The renovations on the Ripley building will begin after the completion of the new medical office.
“A primary goal for our organization is to improve access to care for our patients,” Timothy Churchill, president of Western Maine Health, said in a press release. “We believe it will be a positive development for our medical staff, employees, our patients and the communities we serve.”