It’s been 17 years, five months and 13 days since Valencia County residents threw their support and votes behind an eight-year increase to their property taxes with the goal of bringing a hospital to the county.

After nearly two decades of lawsuits, arguing, attempted and failed contracts and hard lessons learned, the Valencia County commission approved a trio of agreements that will hopefully see the long-awaited project started and completed.

The commissioners voted 4-0 to award a healthcare facilities contract to Brazos — the joint venture between Texas-based Community Healthcare Corporation and Albuquerque’s Lovelace Health System — for the operation of a Valencia County hospital, at a special meeting, Wednesday, April 24.

The commissioners also approved a design-build contract with Albuquerque-based construction company Bradbury Stamm and its design partner FBT Architects, also out of Albuquerque.

What has probably been the most hotly-contested part of the project over the years – the location – was also announced at the meeting.

The facility will be built on the northeast corner on N.M. 6 and Sandsage, west of Interstate 25, in the village of Los Lunas. The property is southeast of the Los Lunas Fire Station 2 on Sandsage.

The design-build

Art Tatum, FBT’s president and director of design, told the commission and community members who crowded into the chambers that the design and floor plan of the hospital was “very conceptual.” 

Image courtesy of Bradbury Stamm and FBT Architects
Conceptual drawing of the Valencia County Hospital.

Companies who responded to the design-build request for proposals were asked to submit a “site neutral” design, since the commission put the task of site selection in the hands of CHC and Lovelace.

Calling the site selection “part of the lessons learned,” county attorney Dave Pato said the commission purposely steered clear of even knowing where the hospital would be built.

“As I was walking into the meeting tonight, I received the location,” Pato said. “We learned (having the commission involved) creates factions on the commission and factions in the community.”

The design-build RFP called for a 15-bed, 35,100-square-foot facility to be built on a piece of property at least 10 acres. Tatum said their conceptual plans are for a single-story building, of about 40,000 square feet, which will include an emergency department, pharmacy, imaging suite and a 15-patient inpatient wing.

“We started with a sustainable layout, using materials local to the area so it fits,” Tatum said. “There’s a lot of natural light and it’s a very compact floor plan.”

Dennis Towne, Bradbury’s president and a Valencia County resident, said by using the design-build method, while FBT refines and completes the design, Bradbury can break ground and “get moving. We actually have a lot of work done. We need to fine tune it and then go, go fast. Even though it took almost 20 years to get from there to here, this is going to go fast. We can get earth work done, foundation and utility packages started. Art will finish the design, get building permits and then we’ll be into construction.”

According to the proposal Bradbury and FBT submitted, the hospital will be designed to allow for a future hospital expansion of 18,750 square feet and a medical office building addition of 24,500 square feet. 

The site will also include a helipad with adjacency to the critical care services in the facility, separate staff parking, emergency department parking, patient and visitor parking and a loading dock. 

Construction is expected to be completed in the spring of 2026.

Operation and management

In a joint statement issued by CHC and Lovelace, the companies indicated the hospital will be owned by Valencia County and operated by a joint venture of the two companies.
“Under the joint venture arrangement, CHC will be the manager with responsibility for day-to-day hospital operations while Lovelace will provide critical support services, including medical group support and access to its electronic health record. As part of Lovelace Health System, the hospital will reflect the Lovelace brand,” the statement reads.

According to the statement, representatives of CHC and Lovelace “completed an extensive review of potential sites ….” which “considered a variety of factors including population growth trends, ease of access, proximity to I-25 and room to accommodate future expansion.”

Image courtesy of Bradbury Stamm and FBT Architects
Conceptual drawing of the Valencia County Hospital. Construction is anticipated to be done by spring 2026.

The Valencia County parcel map indicates the 21 acres at the northeast corner of N.M. 6 and Sandsage Street is owned by Los Morros Investment Group. The property is located in the Los Morros Business Park, which is described as a “… state-of-the-art, master-planned park … designed as a mixed-use site, equally capable of handling both business and industrial applications,” according to its website.

The last 18 months

In August 2022, CHC and partner Lovelace were the only respondents to the county’s request for proposals for an acute care hospital. 

The RFP was let on March 17, 2022, shortly after commissioners approved an agreement with the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration for a $50 million appropriation to plan, design, construct, equip and furnish an acute care hospital in Valencia County.

During the third special legislative session of 2021, the New Mexico Legislature — with the approval of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham — appropriated $50 million to DFA for an acute care hospital in a county with a population of less than 100,000. 

On March 4, 2022, the county commission and DFA signed an agreement for the $50 million. That funding is through the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, and is part of the more than $1.7 billion awarded to the state in June 2021.  

One challenge identified last year was the requirement the $50 million be spent by the end of 2025. During the 2023 legislative session, the county was able to convince the Legislature to extend the deadline to 2026, as well as allow for 5 percent of the $50 million to be used for pre-opening expenses.

In February 2023, the county released a request for proposals for the Phase I design-build of a hospital. 

A total of five companies responded to the February RFP — Enterprise Builders, HB Construction, Bradbury Stamm and Jaynes Corporation, all based in Albuquerque, and Brycon in Rio Rancho. Those five were narrowed down to a short list of three — Enterprise, HB and Bradbury — which were offered the chance to respond to the second phase of the RFP that was issued on Dec. 18, 2023. 

As per the phase II documents, the maximum allowable construction cost — excluding state gross receipts taxes — is $36 million. 

Funds for the operation and maintenance of a hospital were collected from county taxpayers in the form of a property tax — an eight-year mill levy that was approved by voters in November 2006 — that was collected from 2007 to 2014. Collections total about $28 million and those funds are kept in an interest-bearing account at Bank of the West.

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.