A significant expansion planned at Fairview Ridges Hospital is all about the changing demographic profile of Burnsville and the surrounding community.

Informally christened "The Baby Hospital" when it opened in the mid-1980s, Fairview Ridges still sees 3,000 births a year, said President Beth Krehbiel. But its biggest needs now and in the future will be for more facilities for an aging population.

"We're seeing a huge increase in demand for services for people 65 and older," Krehbiel said.

The $60 million project, the largest expansion in Fairview Ridges' 28-year history, will increase facilities for cardiac, oncology and orthopedic care. In addition to older patients, the new facilities and services are geared to changes resulting from healthcare reform, such as more previously uninsured patients seeking care.

In Burnsville alone, people 65 and older account for about 12 percent of the population, compared with just 4 percent in 1990, according to the Metropolitan Council. The age group's share of the state's population has stayed basically the same, around 13 percent, during the same period.

"We're at our maximum capacity now and we're also looking ahead to the future," Krehbiel said. The number of older residents in Burnsville and surrounding communities -- an area that accounts for about 85 percent of Fairview Ridge's patients -- is expected to increase by 80 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to a hospital market study. The projected increase for all age groups is 14 percent.

The steady rise in senior housing in the past decade is an indicator of the aging of the south-metro area. This year alone has seen senior housing projects added or in the works in Burnsville, Mendota Heights, Rosemount and Lilydale. A new senior development in Lakeville, the Fountains at Hosanna, had its grand opening this week and is the second recent senior project in that community.

Fairview Ridges also has supported and sparked other development in the area, said Jenni Faulkner, Burnsville's community development director. The hospital has fueled medical office projects beyond its own campus and could prompt more hotel development in the future, she said. "Hospitals working with hotels for after-care stays is a trend that is coming," she said. "The uses are very compatible."

A recent visit to Fairview Ridges' laboratory, which will be replaced with a larger facility, offered some clear signs of the need to expand. Lab technicians work with barely enough room to pass each other between work stations.

Looking over the cramped quarters, Laboratory Supervisor Nancy Field said she is trying to figure out where to put a new piece of equipment when it's delivered next month. The chemical analyzer is 10 feet long and three feet wide and must reside in the lab temporarily to be calibrated before it's moved to another part of the hospital. "I honestly don't know where I'm going to put it," Field said.

Fairview Ridges was licensed for 150 beds when it was built but opened with 30 and has steadily moved up to its licensed limit, Krehbiel said. "I'm sure that at the time people thought we'd never get to the 150 limit, but we've been running at that capacity since 2006," Krehbiel said.

The expansion won't add to the number of licensed beds but will include a separate observation unit with 12 to 16 beds. The unit is meant for short-term needs, such as administering fluids and medication and waiting for test results, Krehbiel said. The unit will help free up beds on in-patient floors, she said. An ambulatory surgery center also will be added for outpatient surgeries.

Fairview Ridges has about 90,000 square feet of office space that's completely full, with waiting lists for current tenants wanting more space and new ones wanting to move in. The expansion will add up to 165,000 square feet of medical office space.

The hospital hasn't submitted plans to the city yet but hopes to begin work on the project next year and complete it in 2015. Krehbiel said Fairview expects some of the cost to be funded by philanthropic donations.

Susan Feyder • 952-746-3282