PLAQUEMINE — The Iberville Parish government is on track to break ground on a new medical center by next summer with preliminary plans to open the facility in 2013, parish officials said.

The parish has been without a hospital since 2008 when River West Medical Center closed due to damage from Hurricane Gustav.

The Parish Council has been negotiating with Ochsner Health System to open a new medical center in the Plaquemine area since the beginning of the year.

Preliminary plans call for a small, 24-hour-a-day emergency care facility that provides laboratory and radiology services on an outpatient basis.

So far, the parish has signed a purchase agreement to buy 27 acres off of La. 1 near Senator Gay Boulevard in Plaquemine for about $1 million, Parish President Mitch Ourso said.

Workers are now conducting federally required geotechnical assessments on the site to determine the stability of the soils located on the property.

There is also a drainage study in progress that is expected to be finished by the end of November, Ourso said.

A large drainage pipe running through the property diverts water from the nearby St. Louis subdivision before channeling it to nearby drainage canals, Ourso said.

“We need to be very careful with this drainage situation,” Ourso said. “I don’t want to impede any drainage. I promised people the medical facility will not impact anyone’s quality of life.”

Once the geotechnical assessment and drainage study are complete, the parish will enter into more concrete talks with Ochsner, Ourso said.

Mitch Wasden, chief executive officer of Ochsner for the Baton Rouge region, said much of those plans should be ironed out within the next 60 days.

Ochsner and the parish need to decide how big the facility will be, what services it will provide and what equipment will be needed to serve a population 30 miles from the nearest hospital in Baton Rouge, Wasden said.

Parish officials have said a 20,000-square-foot building should be able to serve the local population while Wasden said the facility could be as large as 50,000-square-feet.

Whatever the size, Wasden said, he wants the medical center to be equipped with MRI and CAT scan machines, a helicopter pad and enough space to house six or seven physician offices for an in-house clinic.

The entire project is in the works thanks to $22 million in state hurricane disaster recovery funding.

Parish officials can expect to receive $3 million more in capital outlay funds to equip the medical center, said State Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part.

“The bond commission has approved the money, but the parish won’t be able to get their hands on it until July 1.” she said. “I wish I could make it quicker.”

As of October, the parish has received $500,000 of that money, said Thomas David, president of the Pan-American Engineers consulting firm.

The remaining $2.5 million is on the horizon but not yet in hand, David said.

Until the full amount is allocated, the parish and Ochsner are working on dual plans for the medical center, David said.

“Every dollar we lose in capital outlay means certain amenities go away,” David said. “We clearly have the money to build a first-class facility, but the questions are how much square footage do we need and how much can we afford?”

Both the parish and Ochsner have expressed an interest in building the facility with an eye toward future expansion, David said.

Engineers and consultants are continuing to hash out how much expansion space should be included in the original design. They want to avoid building a costly annex in the future, but at the same time, they don’t want to have unused space in the short term, David said.

“We’re looking at this becoming an entire medical complex in the future with nursing homes and clinics,” David said. But “we need to make prudent use of federal funds.”