RAWLINS – It’s official.
On Aug. 23, the Memorial Hospital of Carbon County Board of Trustees finalized the purchase of the Bi-Rite building, which will be rendered into a clinic.
According to MHCC CEO Dana Barnett, including the Bi-Rite property itself, which rests at the corner of Third and W. Buffalo streets, the purchase of an adjacent parking lot owned by Elks Lodge No. 609, and construction costs, final project price falls between $3 million-$3.3 million.
The Bi-Rite property alone had a price tag of $625,000, while the lot owned by the Elks Club was $50,000.
Yesterday, Barnett told the Rawlins Daily Times that the hospital currently plans to finance the project using cash reserves; however, if need be they will accept future bids from financial institutions.
The new clinic, which is about 7,300 sq. ft., will provide up to six practitioners and will house an assortment of about 12 exam, lab and X-ray rooms. In addition, parking will include about 35 spaces, with handicap ramps leading to the front door.
Construction is expected to start between next month and November, said Barnett, while the project is to be completed the first quarter of next year.
“It’s something we will be proud of,” Barnett said. “The community deserves this.”
Despite the enthusiasm, the board and the project have faced a mire of controversies.
Current board secretary Rod Waeckerlin has owned the Bi-Rite property since 1998. To squash any notions of conflict of interest, in June Waeckerlin told the Daily Times that he recused himself from all negotiations.
Later that month, during a subsequent hearing held by the Carbon County Commission regarding the matter, MHCC legal counsel Abbi Forward supported the claim, saying, “(Waeckerlin) complied with all laws regarding any conflicts of interest.” This, according to Forward, fell within the legal confines of the Wyoming State Ethics and Disclosure Act.
Earlier this year, when asked, Waeckerlin chose not to reveal how much he originally purchased the property for.
But it isn’t just him who was under scrutiny.
During the same June Commission meeting, Forward explained that, since current board president Sherrod France is a former director of the Bank of Commerce, “No financial institutions were approached” during negotiations. In addition, she said the Wyoming State Law – which states that it is illegal for any “public official” to make a profit from “public funds” – only pertains to elected officials, not appointed.
Another board member, Henry Hewitt, who’s currently a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Hewitt & Associates – he was also the first president of the Bank of Wyoming, which later became the Bank of Commerce – came under scrutiny when he was questioned by the Commission if his company had listed or brokered the Bi-Rite property in the facilitation of the deal.
Yesterday, he was again asked if he made any profit from the transaction.
“Not a dime,” he responded.
Hewitt later directed his misgivings toward the RDT for continuing their coverage of the controversy, saying, “You are not looking forward. You are looking back,” and that the public already “had their time” to address the matter during the June Commission hearing.
“The subject here is not a conflict of interest,” he said. “The subject here is, what’s going to be built.”
But why did MHCC decide to purchase the Bi-Rite property in the first place?
According to Hewitt, it was about five years ago when MHCC opened the Spruce Medical Clinic, at 1016 W. Spruce St. The hospital also owns four other clinics within Carbon County.
Hewitt said that SMC was “fronted” by the owner, while the property was paid off through a “high-dollar lease.”