AUBURN — Peter Chalke called plans to reinvent and renovate Bates Mill No. 5 “more than just a construction project.”

In front of a packed house at the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Thursday, the head of Central Maine Healthcare said it was also about more than finding space for his hospital to expand.

“We’ve outgrown all our facilities, but this is not about that,” Chalke said. “This is a concept that we think can improve the health of the community in a fairly dramatic way.”

The hospital and YMCA have been early supporters of developer Tom Platz’s $70 million plan to turn around the 100-year-old, 350,000-square-foot mill. Both groups have laid out plans to use 75,000 square feet each and work together. 

Chalke rattled off a string of health statistics about Androscoggin County — higher than average incidents of diabetes, higher than average incidents of obesity.

“That has to be fixed,” he said. “What we’re doing is not working.”

With the hospital and YMCA working together within Bates Mill No. 5, Chalke said a patient facing hip replacement surgery, for instance, would receive a 12-week free membership to the Y facilities, maybe using four weeks pre-op and eight weeks post-op, to help their recovery.

“(The YMCA’s) job in the 12 weeks is to convince the patient to be a member,” he said.

In facilities with similar partnerships across the country, about 35 percent of those patients do join.

For an issue like rheumatoid arthritis, there’s expensive medication that “does work, but so does exercise and a therapeutic pool,” Chalke said.

Central Maine Medical Center has plans to move several departments into the mill.

Since July 2014, the hospital has hired 73 doctors, he said. “That’s a lot of physicians that require a lot of space.”

When an audience member asked when construction would start, Platz answered, “sometime in the next 12 months.”

He needs more tenants to fill out the building first. Platz has previously said he’d like commitments on 200,000 square feet before moving ahead.

Chalke said after the breakfast that his board is enthusiastically behind the mill idea but won’t formally vote on a lease agreement until Platz is ready to pursue financing.

“Once he gets the critical mass in terms of tenant occupancy, that’s when I go to the board,” he said.

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