API bill advances in Senate hospital committee tacks on amendment, releases measure

Posted: Monday, May 07, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Legislation to replace the aging Alaska Psychiatric Institute with a new hospital cleared the Senate Finance Committee on Sunday evening after being bottled there for a week.

Sen. Dave Donley, R-Anchorage, tacked on an amendment to HB 76 that could slow the project. Under his amendment, the state won't provide new funding to build a new hospital unless the federal government provides at least $15 million to demolish the old API.

Karen Perdue, state commissioner of Health and Social Services, said it wasn't clear whether the restriction would effectively halt the project until the federal money came through.

Bill sponsor Norm Rokeberg, R-Anchorage, said he hopes the requirement will be removed from the bill in the Senate Rules Committee or on the floor. The state should push for federal money for demolition, he said. But he questioned whether it makes sense to make construction dollars contingent on getting the federal demolition funds because that could take time and delay the project.

The bill provides $41.7 million for construction of a new API, not including demolition costs, which would be covered by the federal government. The state would sell certificates of participation, which are similar to bonds, for $16 million in new funding. That money would be combined with $19.2 million from earlier appropriations, $3 million from the trust authority and $3.5 million in investment income.

API was built in 1962 as the sole public psychiatric hospital in Alaska. The state has been pushing for years to replace it, citing code violations, leaky plumbing and sprayed-on asbestos. But plans either fizzled, cost too much or, in the case of a proposal to move API into Charter North Hospital, next to an established Anchorage neighborhood, sparked intense opposition.

Current neighbors, including Providence Alaska Medical Center and the University of Alaska Anchorage, view API largely as a good neighbor. But some have concerns about the hospital's patients accused of crimes, said Jim Parsons, president of the University Area Community Council, a former legislator and once a staff psychologist at API. The hospital now has five patients found not guilty by reason of insanity, as well as a 10-patient unit for those being evaluated for competency to stand trial or who have been judged incompetent.

Neighbors also worry that quiet neighborhood streets might be extended to provide access to new projects. No decisions on traffic routes have been made, said API chief executive officer Randall Burns.

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