ENUMCLAW, Washington (STPNS) -- Construction of a new Enumclaw Regional Hospital should begin this fall and patients will be admitted by January 2010, according to information presented during a public meeting last week.

Addressing a modest crowd Feb. 12 in the public library meeting room, hospital officials outlined plans for the new facility and sought input from those in attendance.

Plans for the new facility ?are moving along quite rapidly,? Dennis Popp, executive director for the Enumclaw hospital, told the audience.

He also took the opportunity to again emphasize the need for a new facility to serve the Plateau. There are a number of challenges facing the existing hospital, he said, specifically pointing to the age of the building, an aging population and constant changes in technology.

The bottom line, he said, is ?we?re wearing it out.?

Enumclaw?s hospital was built in 1949, the result of a communitywide initiative, and has been expanded and remodeled through the years. It is licensed for 38 beds but operates 25 and serves an average of 32,000 patients per year.

Hospital boosters had worked for years on plans for a new hospital, but found the endeavor to be financially impossible.

That changed last year when the hospital joined forces with Franciscan Health System, a major player in the arena of Puget Sound health care. Franciscan operates four other hospitals in the South Sound region (and has a hospital under way in Gig Harbor), operates 50 clinics in King, Pierce and Kitsap counties and is the largest provider of hospice care in the state.

In all, Franciscan ? which has been around since 1891 ? has 6,300 employees.

The new hospital will be about 90,000 square feet in size, about twice as large as the present hospital, and carries a price tag estimated at about $65 million. The tab will be paid by Franciscan and Catholic Health Initiatives, a national organization with which Franciscan is affiliated.

Franciscan officials are hoping Enumclaw city staff will approve final design plans by April and members of the City Council will give their blessing in May, reported Mike Liepman, vice president for facilities.

Robert Lober of Mahlum Architects said his firm is keeping several goals in mind when designing the new facility. Among those are using natural daylight, keeping noise to a minimum, creating a family-friendly atmosphere and keeping the indoor air quality at a high level. Efforts will be made to minimize energy consumption and water use, he added.

?We gave the architects a challenging site to work with,? Popp said, referring to a narrow swath of land directly north of the current hospital. The hospital will be built on a parcel bordered by Cinkovich Street on the west and Jensen Street on the east, Battersby Avenue on the south and Kibler Avenue on the north. Much of the land is now used for hospital parking.

The land slopes and is about 8 feet higher at the corner of Battersby and Cinkovich ? where the entrance to the new facility will be ? than at the north end. Thus, two of the hospital?s three stories will show from the front of the building.

Lober revealed the design will likely include a landing pad for helicopters, possibly on the hospital roof. Popp said helicopters make about 100 trips per year, transporting patients from Enumclaw to other medical facilities. Presently, helicopters land a bit east on Battersby Avenue, on private land donated by the Helac Corporation.

When the new hospital opens its doors, the present facility will be razed and turned into a parking lot.

Franciscan official Joe Kunkel said studies are in the works to provide a safe crossing from the parking lot to the hospital. Battersby Avenue will remain open, so patients and employees will have to cross the street, just as they do now.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com.