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'A huge week' for Winner as ground breaks on $23M hospital

Winner Regional Healthcare Center Foundation Director Jody Engel speaks Wednesday afternoon during a groundbreaking ceremony for the hospital's $23 million expansion. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)

WINNER — One year after announcing plans to drastically change the look of Winner Regional Healthcare Center, crews broke ground on the $23 million project.

As dozens of people watched, hospital officials moved the first piles of dirt on Wednesday, marking the official beginning of a project intended to streamline services at the 70-year-old hospital.

Several speakers took to the small stage area, reminiscing on long careers at Winner Regional, with some calling the expansion "the biggest project to ever hit Winner, South Dakota."

"We find ourselves coming together again as a community to take another step forward in ensuring our neighbors, our friends and our families continue to receive the quality health care we all expect and deserve for generations to come," said Winner Regional Healthcare Center Foundation Director Jody Engel.

The main focus of the project will be the construction of a new clinic, emergency room, operating room, lab and radiology department, along with a streamlined registration area for the entire facility, according to Winner Regional officials.

The original 1947 building will be demolished to make room for new construction, while the old laboratory and radiology space will be repurposed to accommodate services currently housed in the 1947 building.

Regular hospital operations are intended to continue throughout construction, and work will likely continue throughout the winter.

The project, set to add 28,000 square feet and renovate an additional 16,000 square feet, will take approximately 18 months to two years to complete, but its benefits will be worth the wait, Winner Mayor Frank Finney said.

Along with the potential to add jobs, Finney said local patients won't have to travel long distances for quality health care, which is important when people are searching for a place to "lay down roots" and build a family.

"It's going to be a great deal for our town; it'll become the region's hospital," Finney said. "I can't see any disadvantages. It's a good day."

Announced in November 2016, the project hit several snags prior to Wednesday's groundbreaking.

Winner Regional officials had a difficult time securing federal funding from the United States Department of Agriculture, which is funding a large chunk of the project's cost. Then, in May, bids for the project came in higher than expected, forcing hospital personnel to send it to bid a second time, again delaying a groundbreaking, which was originally anticipated to be in fall 2016.

"Honestly, when they were struggling to get funding, it took a lot of air out of the balloon, so to speak. Then, when the USDA loan came through, it was like a second wind for the community," Winner City Councilman Jody Brozik said. "Any time you're strengthening health care in a community ... you're strengthening the community as a whole."

Along with the hospital project getting underway, the city of Winner has seen other businesses open their doors this week. Runnings, a sporting goods, farm and outdoor store, opened Monday morning, as did the town's Dairy Queen after a lengthy renovation process, according to Winner City Councilwoman Val Sherman.

"It's been a huge week," Sherman said. "It's really nice to see those businesses opened up and see the parking lots full. People are really excited around here."