A nearly $80 million contract to design and build a public health campus in Irvine has won unanimous approval from county supervisors – though details on the plans are limited.

Supervisors had no public discussion Tuesday when awarding a $78 million contract to the Canadian multinational firm PCL Construction Services.

Agenda documents say it will feature a “Public Health Lab,” “Agency Operations Center,” and other facilities, but don’t describe what they’ll do or how they’ll be different from existing facilities in Santa Ana.

County CEO Frank Kim had no answers Tuesday or Wednesday when asked by phone for details.

In a statement Wednesday, a county Health Care Agency spokeswoman said the new facility would bring together multiple separate divisions into one location and “address identified needs for increased capacity, proximity, and facility upgrades.”

There were few answers about the specifics of those upgrades.

The Agency Operations Center “will expand to accommodate needs during an emergency,” wrote Ellen Guevara, the spokeswoman.

“The Public Health Laboratory (PHL) will be relocated, expanded, and upgraded at this location. It will increase our capacity for serving the county,” she added.

“Capacity for Lab testing will increase, and will allow space for Health Care Agency response personnel to be at the same location for major events.”

The health campus is slated to be located on nearly 10 acres of county land at the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Irvine, which has been repurposed into the Orange County Great Park.

Funding will come from federal coronavirus response dollars that came to the county as part of the American Rescue Plan Act.

According to the staff report, the new campus will feature:

  • Public health lab with a “Biosafety Lab component” (25,000 square feet)
  • “Communicable Disease Control Services” (22,000 square feet)
  • An “Emergency Management Center” (12,000 square feet)
  • “Agency Operations Center” (9,000 square feet)
  • Security fences and 240 parking spaces

Construction is proposed to start next summer, with “a goal of substantial completion” by December 2024,” Guevara wrote.

The site at 8226 Marine Way, which is along railroad tracks, is less than a 20-minute walk from Irvine train station, according to the county staff report.

The public health campus is in addition to $40 million the county is devoting to a proposed non-profit run mental health campus, also at the former El Toro base, to be run by Mind OC.

The mental health campus, known as Be Well, also is being funded by federal coronavirus response dollars that came to the county.

For the public health campus, county supervisors approved the construction contract Tuesday without an environmental impact report specific to the project.

Instead, the county is relying on environmental impact reports from 2003, 2011, and 2013, which were conducted long before the health campus was proposed.

County staff wrote that the health campus project is “consistent with the assumptions” from the earlier reports.

It’s also unclear what the county officials will do with the savings from no longer having to pay for its existing health facilities in Santa Ana that will be relocated to the El Toro campus funded with federal dollars.

The agenda documents didn’t say, and county officials didn’t answer questions about it. 

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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