United Hospital Center’s new hospital in Bridgeport will cost $15.7 million more than hospital officials originally estimated four-and-a-half years ago.

Initially projected to cost $265,174,000 in 2002, the new hospital is now expected to cost about $280.9 million. The cost increase is about six percent.

Planners have cut 7.5 percent off the size of the building, in effect slicing off about three floors for a reduction of about 55,010 square feet. In 2002, hospital officials said the building would have nine stories above ground and two below.

With a reduction in square footage from 736,410 square feet to 681,400 square feet, the new facility will have seven stories above ground and one basement, UHC President Bruce Carter said.

But the number of beds that have been cut is only 29, from 318 to 289. UHC has found a way to keep an 18-bed psychiatric ward in its plans, Carter said Tuesday.

Carter also announced the sale of bonds on Wall Street to finance the new hospital, which is still slated to open in November 2009. The bonds were sold by the state Hospital Finance Authority with the international firm of UBS as the underwriter, he said.

Groundbreaking at the site near the FBI criminal justice information services center and the new planned community of Charles Pointe will be at 1:30 p.m. June 29, he said.

Inflation and a sharp jump in construction material costs are responsible from boosting the estimated cost, Carter said.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said of the spike in prices for copper, wallboard, steel and other materials.

Hurricanes, shortages and growing global demand, principally in China, are behind the construction material increases, he said.

The lengthy legal battle with Fairmont General Hospital — primarily over the new hospital’s site at the Jerry Dove exit of Interstate 79 (Exit 124), not far from FGH’s traditional market of Marion County — delayed the project for about three years, he noted.

A factor which caught UHC by surprise was a 112 percent increase between the initial estimate for earthmoving and the latest estimate. In 2002, that cost was estimated at $4,902,969.

In January, the cost was estimated at $10,409,609, according to the latest progress report UHC has filed with the state Health Care Authority.

“If there is one factor that we really underestimated, it was the amount of work we had to do to prepare the site,” Carter said.

UHC will soon file another six-month progress report with the state agency.

E-mail Bill Byrd at bbyrd@timeswv.com.

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