The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs now operates an outpatient clinic at 144 Fore St. in Portland. Federal plans call for a new facility five times the size somewhere in Portland or South Portland. 2015 Press Herald File Photo/Gabe Souza

The Department of Veterans Affairs is planning to build a large clinic in Portland so veterans in southern Maine can get a wide array of medical services closer to home.

The VA has issued a request for proposals, looking for a developer of what would be a two-story clinic sited in Portland or South Portland. At roughly 62,000 square feet of building space, the new facility would be about five times larger than a small clinic now operating on Fore Street in Portland.

In addition to the building, the VA also wants space to park about 400 cars. The request for proposals specifies that the parking must be surface-only – not a garage – so the VA would likely need about 5 acres of open space for the structure and parking.

They hope to have the new clinic operating by winter 2021.

LARGER CLINIC, MORE LOCAL SERVICES

Having a larger clinic, with more services, will benefit nearby veterans, said Devin Robinson, marketing director for Maine Veterans’ Homes, a nonprofit that runs six homes for veterans in the state.

VA clinics offer outpatient services away from the state’s main facility, the Togus VA Medical Center in Chelsea, near Augusta. That’s about 60 miles from Portland.

The homes, like the one in Scarborough, organize trips for their residents to Togus for certain procedures and health care services. Having the option to go to Portland instead is appealing, Robinson said.

“A drive from Scarborough to Portland is certainly better,” he said.

The new facility will offer a broad range of services, such as lab work, dental and eye care, mental health care and rehabilitation services. It also will offer additional medical specialties, such as cardiology and oncology, a few days a month.

Other specialty care also will be available in the new facility, officials said, but the final list has not yet been determined.

SITING RESTRICTIONS ‘A LITTLE DIFFICULT’

Proposals for the project are due Sept. 10. But a raft of conditions and restrictions mandated by the VA for the location of the clinic – such as prohibiting proximity near railroad tracks or a jail – rule out a section of Portland not far from Maine Medical Center. Rail tracks and the Cumberland County Jail are located in that part of town, off St. John Street.

“The conditions for the site might be a little difficult in Portland,” said Drew Sigfridson, managing director for CBRE | The Boulos Co., a commercial real estate brokerage in Portland.

Despite the difficulty of meeting all of the requirements, Sigfridson said some of his firm’s clients – either developers or landowners – are likely to submit proposals to the VA.

A map accompanying the VA’s bid solicitation shows the department is considering an area that covers about half of the Portland peninsula, a section of the city out on Brighton Avenue and then southwest toward the Portland International Jetport, for the site of the new clinic. Property in South Portland under consideration includes a small swath stretching from around the Maine Mall to Mill Creek.

The VA intends to lease the building for the clinic and its parking lots from a private developer so the property would stay on city tax rolls. The proposal calls for a lease of up to 20 years.

The VA has 11 clinics in the state to serve veterans closer to their homes. Three of the clinics operate on limited hours.

PROJECT’S COST WILL DEPEND ON LOCATION

Putting a larger VA clinic somewhere in or around Portland has been discussed for years, but funding was only approved this year. The cost of the project will depend in part on which location is selected.

Sigfridson said the VA may have to choose among proposals that don’t meet all of the agency’s criteria, or perhaps reopen the search for a different location near Portland.

“I would think, at the end of the day, they’re going to have to make some choices” about which of its requirements are most important. “There won’t be many options.”

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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