Local healthcare district officials Tuesday approved a cheaper proposal for expanding the Del Norte Wellness Center.

The Del Norte Healthcare District voted 4-0-1 in favor of a $23,800 proposal from Sacramento-based Pressey & Associates to conduct a feasibility and conceptual design for a new specialty clinic and dental clinic at the wellness center. Dr. Kevin Caldwell was absent.

However, Healthcare Director Dwayne Reichlin said he thought the district needed to have more discussions with Open Door Clinic, which operates the wellness center, on what their needs are. Reichlin and his colleagues on the board expressed dismay when they heard Open Door CEO Herrmann Spetzler died on Sunday, stating they are committed to working with the Humboldt County-based organization to keep the clinic operational.

“This is the largest clinic in the county,” said Dr. Greg Duncan, Healthcare District board president. “”It is a vital community service and we are committed to working with Open Door going forward.”

According to its proposal, Pressey & Associates will present two options for a specialty clinic and dental clinic. The first will be to add onto the existing building. The second would be to build a standalone structure to house the specialty and dental clinics.

Pressey & Associates’ feasibility and conceptual design would look at the total layout of the site to determine if the community garden should stay where it is or be relocated, according to the proposal. It will also figure out the location for a mobile pad and hook ups for a mobile MRI unit and determine an efficient design for parking.

Duncan, who, along with Reichlin, met with Principal Architect Kevin Pressey, said he asked Pressey to add the design of a surgery center to the proposal as well as a mutual indemnification clause. Pressey added the mutual indemnification clause and included the surgery center at no extra cost to the healthcare district, Duncan said.

Duncan said he favored Pressey’s proposal over another proposed contract the district had been considering with Vanir Construction Management for expanding the wellness center. The contract with Vanir would have cost $73,000.

Duncan said he preferred the smaller expenditure and noted that the Pressey & Associates would allow the district to get some input from Open Door and other potential partners.

But Duncan also noted expanding the existing facility may be subject to new rules and regulations under the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, which could cost an additional $300,000 to $350,000. Duncan said Pressey is looking into the healthcare district’s options.

“We’ve discussed this in prior meetings, the options of a freestanding building versus building onto the existing building, which was constructed with the intention of having flexibility to build out,” Duncan said.

At a meeting in November, Jim Aboytes, lead planner for Vanir Construction Management, presented his proposal, which included adding a 1,700 square-foot second floor to the existing wellness center building and a 6,800 square-foot single story structure immediately adjacent. Aboytes’ site utilization study also included two additional buildings, both single story, one 10,380 square-feet and the other 22,000 square-feet as well as an exercise path, a garden and a playground.

On Tuesday, Reichlin noted that the Pressey & Associates proposal provides a “heck of a dollar savings,” but it’s not an identical comparison to the Vanir proposal. The proposal from Pressey & Associates provides a phase 1, but Reichlin said he wasn’t sure what would happen once the project moves beyond phase 1.

“I hope we’re going to get a lot of good information from him without him coming back and saying well now I’m getting into the engineering part or we’re getting into something else, we’ll have to start charging you by the hour for that,” Reichlin said.

Reichlin’s colleague on the board, Terry McNamara, said when the project starts to address the electrical, mechanical and structural components, that’s when the district is supposed to take it out to bid.

However the board’s legal counsel, Joel Campbell-Blair said the issue was complicated.

“That’s when it would definitely go out to bid for the county,” Campbell-Blair said. “The healthcare district has its own vaguer rules that come down to dollar amount.”

Reichlin said he was also concerned that the district doesn’t have information from Open Door Community Health Center on what their needs would be for an expanded facility.

In a news release Tuesday, Open Door Community Health Centers Board President Kathleen Moxon stated that Cheyenne Spetzler would serve as interim chief executive officer for the organization.

Compliance Officer Steve Engle told the Triplicate on Thursday that there will be no change in services at the Del Norte clinic as a result of Herrmann Spetzler’s death.

“The organization is solid; we’ve got a senior leadership team,” Engle said. “Cheyenne has been with the organization for many many years and is a strong advocate of the community health center model. Probably the most important thing people should know is we stand ready to take care of the patients that come to the Del Norte center. Our providers are there, staff is there and for the patients, there is no change.”

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .