As construction lags on JPS expansion, leaders look into more funding options

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The JPS Health Network is exploring ways to help offset costs of its system expansion, even though shovels have yet to hit the ground three years after voters approved an $800 million bond for the project.

Robert Earley, JPS president and CEO, said Tuesday he did not know if the expansion would cost more than the bond approved by voters in 2018 because construction has not begun. Donations could potentially help cover the costs or allow the network to expand services, he said.

Construction was initially delayed while lawmakers debated a 2019 property tax law that did not end up affecting hospital districts. Then the pandemic hit.

Not only are costs more than they were a year ago, but the availability of labor and materials has been a challenge, Earley told Tarrant County commissioners during their meeting Tuesday.

County judge Glen Whitley said Tuesday his concern with the project lays less with funding and more with the fact that construction has not begun.

If the project continues to sit, the likelihood that the money won’t be enough increases, Commissioner Gary Fickes said Monday. No construction contracts have been issued yet, he said.

A spokesperson for JPS said in an email Monday there were no solutions to address funding gaps because the problem hasn’t arisen. Earley told commissioners that JPS was prepared to handle any changes in funding.

Voters were told the project would cost an estimated $1.2 billion, with the hospital system contributing $400 million.

County commissioner Devan Allen, who hosted an update meeting on the bond Monday, said costs were something she and other commissioners were continuing to monitor, and that the pandemic has caused challenges with the bond that wouldn’t be there otherwise. In an email after the meeting, Allen said there were also cash reserves set aside to help pay for the project.

The project includes a mental health hospital, four regional medical centers, an outpatient surgery center, increased bed space and expanded cancer treatment. It’s expected to last from 10 to 12 years.

A update in early June showed plans for an ambulatory surgery center, psychiatric surgery center and one or more medical homes.

Project managers have identified 12 priority projects. Topping the list is starting construction on a medical home, followed by four plans to expand parking so the hospital system can keep up with services and have space for patients.

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