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KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — U.S. Defense Department officials are moving forward with the design for a proposed new medical facility adjacent to Ramstein Air Base, a decision that could signal the eventual closure of Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

After studying the issue, the department supports combining LRMC and the Air Force’s medical clinic on Ramstein into one location at an old Army depot in Weilerbach instead of funding extensive renovations needed at each facility, said U.S. European Command spokeswoman Maj. Kristi Beckman.

“In general, a new combined facility is the most efficient long-term solution to continue providing quality medical care for wounded warriors, servicemembers and families for decades to come,” Beckman said in a written statement.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Europe District, already has begun work on the project’s initial design, said Corps spokesman Justin Ward.

“We are in the very preliminary stages of what will be a multiyear design process,” Ward said.

The agency doesn’t have a cost estimate or completion date for the work yet, he said.

Military officials were quick to note that the proposal is contingent upon future congressional support.

Army officials say they’re still reviewing the facilities at Landstuhl for possible follow-on use. In addition to the hospital — the largest U.S. medical facility in Europe — the post has administration areas, barracks, housing, an elementary and middle school, a United Service Organizations Warrior Center, and two Fisher Houses, where family members of sick and wounded servicemembers can stay while their loved ones are being treated at the hospital.

Landstuhl Mayor Klaus Grumer said Wednesday that he’s concerned by the prospect of LRMC moving out of Landstuhl. On Tuesday, he wrote a letter to the U.S. Army Europe commander, Gen. Carter Ham, requesting a meeting with him to discuss the issue, Grumer said. Grumer said that although military officials had met with regional politicians on the issue, they had not met with him.

“The first priority is to keep the hospital where it is,” he said. But if the hospital moves, Grumer said, the city wants some of the land back and would insist that the U.S. military also move the Army helicopter medical evacuation unit that supports the post.

LRMC was built in 1953 and currently has about 3,000 employees — a mix of active duty, civilian, reservists and local nationals — hospital officials said.

Located 10 miles south of Ramstein, LRMC has treated about 60,500 wounded troops from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2004, hospital officials said.

In 2008, it received approval for a $400 million project that, among other upgrades, would add a five-story inpatient tower to the existing hospital. Construction was slated to begin in 2010 or 2011, but with the new proposal, that renovation appears to be on hold.

Stars and Stripes’ Marcus Klöckner contributed to this story.

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