Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital
It will take another 18 months before the $1 billion rebuild of Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital is complete. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

By the time it’s completed, the seismic-retrofitting of Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital will have lasted nearly 20 years and cost more than $1 billion.

The good news is that Santa Barbara has a world-class hospital and services for children and adults in need of acute and emergency care. 

“You’ve really done a great job,” said Santa Barbara Planning Commission Chairwoman Leslie Wiscomb. “You have an amazing facility.”

Ron Biscaro, vice president of project management for Cottage Health, gave a report to the Planning Commission on the status of the hospital project.

The organization embarked on the costly venture in 2002 to rebuild and retrofit the hospital, which takes up several city blocks in Santa Barbara’s Oak Park neighborhood.

At the height of Cottage’s planning effort, the project sparked massive controversy over its size, length and sound of construction and concerns about a health care monopoly.

A few years prior, Cottage had purchased the only other hospital in the city, St. Francis Medical Center, shut it down, and converted the property into housing for its employees. 

But over time the concerns subsided and the community became increasingly accepting of the hospital’s growth, expansion and role in the community. Quarterly neighborhood meetings that once were packed with concerned residents now are only attended by about 2-4 people, Biscaro said. 

All of the construction is expected to be completed by 2021.

Cottage is building in eight phases, from the initial parking structures, central plant and child care center to the nursing pavilions, diagnostic and therapeutic wing and conference rooms.

The hospital along the way also rebuilt its medical-surgical facilities, pediatric wing and intensive care unit, neonatal intensive care unit and dialysis center.

It’s currently or about to start working on retrofitting and rebuilding of the administration building and emergency departments. 

When the emergency room is completed, it will have nearly doubled the 38 existing patient rooms and allow staff to see as many as 75,000 patients a year.

The hospital plans to close the Bath Street cafe, as it formally converts the main entrance to the hospital to the intersection of Castillo and Pueblo Streets.

Biscaro shared at the meeting some of the lessons that the hospital learned from the years-long project.

“We underestimated the cost of the project by half in 2003,” Biscaro said. “We learned to never rely on an architect’s estimate.”

Biscaro said the hospital spent $80 million on equipment alone for the project. 

“We were surprised by the escalation in costs,” Biscaro said.

The planning commissioners showered Cottage with praise. 

“I really appreciate that the hospital stayed open during this process,” said Commissioner John Campanella. 

Commissioner Mike Jordan called Cottage a “world-class regional facility.”

“You have done this honestly and transparently,” Jordan said. 

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.