With the purchase of one residential parcel and another coming later this month, the Faribault City Council is well on its way to providing drivers with a more direct route to the city’s hospital and nature center.
On Tuesday, the City Council approved the purchase of a parcel at 734 Division St. E for $200,000 — including relocation and closing costs — the first step in extending State Avenue between First Street NE/Hwy. 60 and Division Street. The purchase of a neighboring property at 810 Division St. E. is expected at its June 25 meeting. Once those are complete, city engineers will begin planning for road construction, which could begin this fall.
Extending State Avenue would allow more direct access to District One Hospital, nearby medical facilities and River Bend Nature Center. City Engineer Mark DuChene said doing so will also decrease traffic on Sixth Avenue SE. Currently, 5,600 vehicles use this street each day, according to Minnesota Department of Transportation estimates.
City Administrator Tim Murray, who previously served as Faribault’s engineer, has considered this extension for years, believing it will separate traffic heading to the hospital and that nature center from that going to Minnesota Correctional Facility-Faribault and the Minnesota Academy for the Blind.
At the completion of the road project, any land considered excess will likely be sold, helping defray construction costs, said Mayor Kevin Voracek.
Once Sixth Avenue SE provides access to the hospital from the west and State Avenue provides access on the east, the hospital board could get its wish to close First Street SE, which runs east-west through the campus.
The closure of First Street initially came to the City Council in 2017 when District One Hospital sought to demolish Johnston Hall — built in 1888 by Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple as part of Seabury Divinity School. Hospital officials said they don’t have a use for the building and it would be too costly to renovate.
In a proposal giving the city two years to find a suitable developer interested in re-purposing the historic structure, District One Hospital asked the city to close First Street SE.
Closing First Street would allow District One Hospital to move its helipad away from the hospital in accordance with Federal Aviation Administration requirements. Removing the street would also increase client safety as they normally cross the street from a hospital parking lot on First Street to reach the hospital.
State law, which requires a public hearing before a vote to vacate streets is taken, didn’t allow the council to guarantee the street closure, so that section of the agreement was removed.
District One Hospital President David Albrecht on Wednesday said Allina Health, which owns the hospital, won’t immediately ask that First Street be closed, as that request is also dependent on the fate of Johnston Hall. City leaders have said they are working with a developer interested in the historic building, but that discussions are ongoing.