02/25/2002 12:00AM

Construction of equine hospital nearly a go

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ALBANY, Calif. - After several years of waiting by local veterinarians and horsemen at Golden Gate Fields, construction of an equine medical facility at the track may finally begin as early as spring.

The construction of an equine hospital was one of the conditions Magna Entertainment agreed to when it purchased Golden Gate Fields in 2000. Delays in the construction have prompted grumbling by many horsemen; a hand-written epithet recently turned up on a sign in a barn announcing that a hospital would be built. The California Horse Racing Board also discussed the lack of progress at its February meeting last week.

The northern California tracks have been without an equine hospital since 1996, when the hospital at Bay Meadows was torn down after the sale of that track's barn area.

Magna officials said the delays began when they were unable to get building permits from the City of Berkeley, where the Golden Gate barn area is located. The proposed site for the hospital was then switched to a location in the City of Albany, where the track is located, on the Berkeley border.

Once the site was picked, Magna officials said, it took veterinarians six months to agree on the design plans. Then a power line was discovered under the proposed site that needed to be either diverted or protected from the construction. The builders will raise the building's foundation to protect the line.

At the CHRB meeting, Magna said its construction contract guaranteed the building would be built within four months. However, the project still must undergo a review by the Albany Planning Commission, which could take 30 to 45 days, before permits are issued.

Magna is responsible for the shell of the building as well as a hoist system to transport injured horses from the entrance of the building to X-ray and surgery.

Dr. Roger Hunter spoke at the CHRB meeting representing local veterinarians.

"I think it's positive," he said of what he heard at the meeting.

CHRB members were concerned that a nonprofit group of vets had raised only $70,000 to furnish the hospital, but Hunter explained that the group still had an X-ray unit and surgery table from the old hospital at Bay Meadows. When a hospital is actually constructed, he expects to launch a new fund drive.