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Harsh Winter Delays Wisconsin Flight for Life Center

MILWAUKEE, Wis. -- Operators of the Flight for Life helicopter ambulance service are pushing back the opening date for their new Waukesha (Wis.) hub because of harsh winter weather that has slowed construction.

The move delays the opening of a major new addition at Crites Field, which is now dominated by corporate jets and other private aircraft.

The county-owned airport has no commercial airline service.

Flight for Life announced last fall that its operations base would relocate to Waukesha from Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa to improve service throughout southeastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

But because of a construction slowdown blamed on heavy snow this winter, the new facility's opening has been postponed from June until August.

"The snow just killed us," said William Hatcher, executive director of the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center. "And then it turned into a mudhole."

The regional medical center is a consortium of hospitals and other health care institutions that started Flight for Life in 1984.

By shifting operations westward, officials hope to expand and centralize their primary 50-mile service radius for transporting patients from traffic accidents and other emergencies. Flight for Life has helicopter ambulances capable of traveling 150 mph.

Waukesha Countyofficials who are eager to bring the helicopter ambulance service to Crites Field said they watched helplessly this winter as the nearly $3 million development was slowed by the elements.

Airport manager Keith Markano said construction crews tried repeatedly to overcome the heavy snowfall and bitter cold.

"They did what they could, but you can only go so far," Markano said, adding that he was surprised the project was not more than two months behind schedule.

Situated on the south side of the Waukesha airport, the project includes a two-story operations center with a 25,000-square-foot landing pad that will be larger than the building itself. County officials also plan to spend $150,000 in county and state funds to extend a service road and utilities to the site.

Led by general contractor Anderson-Ashton Inc. of New Berlin, construction crews built the foundation last fall and have since assembled nearly the entire structural frame of the building.

Anderson-Ashton President David Miller said he hopes to have the building finished by July, which would allow Flight for Life to install equipment and furnishings in time to begin operations by mid-August.

In addition to delays, the winter weather drove up the cost of the development. Hatcher could not provide an estimate, but he said the final price tag would be inflated by the cost of heating the construction site and providing additional rock base to support cranes in the mud.

On the Web

For more information on Flight for Life, visit www.flightforlife.org.

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