There were accolades all around Thursday as the Tehachapi Valley Healthcare District held a groundbreaking ceremony for a new hospital, culminating years of effort and a commitment by district voters to encumber property owners with $65 million in bonds.
Plans for a new hospital have been in the works since at least 1983. The current hospital was constructed in 1956 to replace the earlier one destroyed in the devastating 1952 Tehachapi earthquake.
It was built for a population of fewer than 1,500 people; the greater Tehachapi area now has more than 30,000 residents.
Holding a sign that said "I've waited 45 years for this," hospital employee Estella Martinez showed her obvious pleasure in the milestone.
She has worked at the hospital for 45 years and, like many of the speakers, said it was long past time for Tehachapi to get a new hospital.
"We've outgrown our facility our community's grown and we need to expand our hospital as well. We're been patiently waiting," Martinez said.
Voters in the district approved $15 million in bonds in 2004, only to find in 2008 that the hospital design then approved was not adequate and could not be built for that amount of money.
The district literally went back to the drawing board, returning to voters in 2009 with a new design and a request for an additional $50 million in bonds, which was approved by voters.
Members of the public grew frustrated and some suggested a different location until an election in 2010 resulted in the incumbents being retained and continuing on a course to build at the controversial site north of Highway 58 near the Mill Street exit in the Capital Hills area of Tehachapi.
In December 2011, just weeks before a planned groundbreaking, a group called the Tehachapi Critical Landuse Issues Group asked a Kern County Superior Court judge to require more environmental review of the project.
In September 2012, Judge Kenneth C. Twisselman II sided with the hospital, paving the way for construction to continue.
Unfortunately, costs had gone up in the interim and the district struggled to come up with a plan to pay for the project before awarding the first bids earlier this year.
"This was a long and arduous journey to get to this point," Tehachapi Mayor Phil Smith said Thursday. "It's another milestone for Tehachapi. We're getting a full-service hospital again, where families will not have to go out of town."