WESLEY CHAPEL — The piece of cow pasture that for about 18 months has been home to a sign in the ground promising a hospital is about to become a construction site.
County Commission Chairwoman Pat Mulieri announced in a workshop Tuesday that shovels will turn the earth on Dec. 14 to kick off construction of Wesley Chapel Medical Center, an 80-bed, 200,000-square-foot hospital on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
The hospital will be owned by the Orlando-based Adventist Health System, which recently merged with University Community Hospital.
It will sit on land that was part of the 5,000-acre Wiregrass Ranch, which has been owned by the Porter family since World War II and is now one of the largest regional developments on Florida's west coast.
Hospital officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday. However, they estimated previously that construction would take 18 months to two years.
"I knew they were planning on a mid December ground breaking," said David West, executive director of the Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce. He said a first-rate hospital like the one that will be built, along with spinoff medical offices and a new campus of Pasco Hernando Community College to open in 2013, will enhance the quality of life in central Pasco.
"It really moves Wesley Chapel to the next level," he said.
The announcement came a couple of months after the Porter family got county approval to make land use changes that would clear the way for the hospital and the college, as well as a 300,000 square foot "recreational attraction."
Among the requests was specifying nearly 200,000 of the more than 2 million square feet of proposed office space for medical buildings to support the hospital.
"We're really, in 2010, watching a city evolve," County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand said when the vote was taken in September.
The three-story hospital will feature a large well-lit atrium leading to patient areas. The back will include private patient rooms, each with foldout beds for family members. Rooms will all have pastoral views, with retention ponds and wetlands at every corner, as natural scenes have been shown to promote healing.
The hospital's corporate parent, which is affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, stresses healing of mind, body and spirit.
It has been a busy time for hospitals all over Pasco.
Last year the 48,000 square foot Long Term Acute Care Hospital of Connerton opened. It is also part of the Adventist group.
In February, the nonprofit Morton Plant North Bay Hospital unveiled the biggest expansion in its nearly 45-year history, a $49 million project that nearly doubled the size of the hospital.
Construction continued at the $210 million Medical Center of Trinity, which will replace Community Hospital in downtown New Port Richey. After delays, it now is scheduled to open in the fall of 2011.
Lisa Buie can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4604.