City gives cancer center final approval

The City of New Haven gave the official go-ahead Tuesday for the construction of the one of the most controversial projects in the city’s recent history.

Tuesday afternoon, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Yale-New Haven Hospital President Marna P. Borgstrom signed an official agreement stipulating the details of Yale-New Haven Cancer Center’s development following its approval by the Board of Aldermen on Monday night. The contract includes community benefits agreements that will provide millions of dollars for programs such as the Mayor’s Youth Initiative, along with agreements regarding the leasing and transfer of the center’s construction site, according to a statement from the Mayor’s Ofice.

“The Board of Aldermen acted expediently but with thorough consideration,” DeStefano said in the statement. “Their approval gives the green light to a project that will deliver state-of-the-art care for cancer patients and their families, stable jobs for residents of our city, especially the Hill, Dwight and West River, and a host of benefits for the community.”

Construction of the cancer center was tied up for nearly two years as hospital administrators found themselves at odds with labor leaders and community members over issues such as union recognition, economic development and traffic congestion.

Ward 10 Alderman Edward Mattison said the green light for construction still comes with some additional constraints in the form of three committees made up of community members and representatives from both the city and the hospitals. He said two will focus on the construction of the center, one examining the master plan for the design of the area and the other looking at the impact of the new facility on the traffic flow through the neighborhood, while the third will address the hospital’s policies regarding financing patient care including debt collection.

Even though the committees will continue to influence the center’s construction, Mattison said, the major obstacles to the center’s construction have been officially removed.

“We are delighted that the problem has been solved,” he said. “Basically, the deal’s done.”

In one of the minor changes made to the agreement originally planned in March, DeStefano said the committees focusing on the construction of the center will now include two residents instead of the previously stipulated one. An additional neighborhood meeting to discuss the designs for the building is also included in the updated agreement, she said.

Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield said in a statement that the final approval of this agreement could set a beneficial precedent for future relations between the city, Yale-New Haven and the community, which have been plagued during the last year with disagreements over the proper way to proceed with the construction of the center.

Borgstrom said Yale-New Haven is looking forward to working with the city’s support throughout the construction process in order more fully to serve its patients.

“The thousands of people living with cancer in Connecticut will be the true beneficiaries of this state-of-the-art facility,” Borgstrom said in a press release.

Although he was happy to see the construction process on this specific center move forward, Mattison said, he thinks medical care in general is still seriously flawed, with the potential for serious challenges in the future both locally and on a nationwide scale.

“What’s a little scary to me is that the medical care system seems to be teetering on a precipice,” he said.

Construction of the $430 million center is expected to begin with a formal groundbreaking ceremony in late September while demotion of the Grace building, which currently occupies the site, is already under way.

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