The General Services Administration is studying the feasibility of converting the vacant Federal Building in downtown Missoula to a new outpatient clinic for the Montana VA Health Care System, the agency confirmed this week.
The facility was built as the original post office in 1911 and has been under GSA ownership since 1949. The U.S. Forest Service occupied the building until last year when it moved to Fort Missoula, saving an estimated $1.9 million in annual lease payments.
Sally Mayberry, public affairs officer for the GSA’s Rocky Mountain Region, said the VA feasibility study should be complete in June.
“This study defines the project and establishes project requirements, identifies key technical factors like zoning, engineering or sustainability requirements, and defines financial factors for the project,” she said. “The feasibility study contractor is responsible for completing the study with the team’s input and guidance.”
If the GSA opts to move forward, Mayberry said, the agency would seek local contractors though the Small Business Administration office to retrofit the building to suit the VA’s needs.
It’s yet unknown what the project would cost or if Congress will choose to fund it, Mayberry said. The VA opened a new $6.3 million clinic in Billings last year.
“Once the feasibility study is complete and it proves that the building is indeed an opportunity for the VA, the GSA would put a proposal together for project funding, which would then go to Congress for approval,” she said.
At a town hall meeting last week in Missoula, John Ginnity, acting director of VA Montana, addressed the agency’s plans to expand its existing clinic in Missoula while also looking for long-term solutions to address special needs.
The existing clinic off Palmer Street offers just 18,000 square feet of room, though it likely will be expanded to 22,000 feet this summer to help alleviate crowding. Yet even that won’t address the clinic’s long-term needs in western Montana, Ginnity said.
The clinic provides roughly 25,000 patient visits annually, a number that has overwhelmed the existing facility and led to a delay in some veterans getting appointments. In comparison, the clinic in Billings records about 28,000 patient visits in 70,000 square feet.
“Down the road, we are looking at the Federal Building downtown,” Ginnity said. “Financially, it looks expensive, but the GSA has been supportive.”
Ginnity said officials with the Montana VA met with the GSA this month to discuss the site’s utilities and overall feasibility. He said the retrofit is still 18 months away, but plans to provide a 55,000-square-foot clinic at the location are moving forward.
Ginnity also acknowledged that parking was an issue with the downtown location. He said the GSA has ensured that parking will be made available. If it’s located off site, he said, transportation to the clinic would be provided.
The GSA said it’s looking for a parking solution.
“The details of the parking requirements are still being worked out,” said Mayberry. “But GSA is committed to identifying a solution.”