PORTLAND (AP) – Neighbors of Maine Medical Center have plenty of questions about the hospital’s planned $104 million expansion, particularly the helipad to be located on top of a parking garage.

The core of the project is a $62 million four-story birthing center and nursery. But neighborhood leaders and planning officials predict that the $1.5 million helipad on the 12th floor of the existing garage will inspire the most debate.

“It’s noisy, and there’s a certain element of risk,” said Orlando Delogu, the chairman of the Portland Planning Board.

and a West End resident.

“You’re landing an aircraft on top of a building in a busy part of Portland.”

But the helicopter only would be used four to five time a week and studies indicate that “it’s not going to be an intolerable amount of noise,” said hospital spokesman Wayne Clark.

Trauma patients from other parts of the state now are flown to Portland International Jetport, then sped by ambulance to Maine Med.

Clark said a helipad at the hospital could shave life-saving minutes off travel time.

If the helipad is approved, Portland hospitals could go from having no helipad to two. Mercy Hospital, which is planning to relocate to a site by the Fore River, got city approval for a helipad at that site about two years ago, said Alex Jaegerman, director of the city’s planning division.

Other key elements of the Maine Med expansion include the birthing center at the site of the former New England Rehabilitation Hospital; an $18 million utility center; and an additional seven-story parking garage.

A public hearing will take place sometime in July. Votes on whether to approve zoning for the project will follow, first by the Planning Board, and probably a month later, by the City Council.

AP-ES-05-25-04 0217EDT

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