New Milford Hospital officials unveiled plans Tuesday for a new emergency department that will more than double its size and dramatically change the look of the hospital as seen from Elm Street.

The 11,000-square-foot, two-story emergency room will be built into the hill to the left of the present structure. Cost is estimated to be $10.8 million, more than a third of which already has been raised through private donations.

The addition is the "first physical manifestation of our commitment to the community," said Deborah Weymouth, executive director of New Milford Hospital and senior vice president of Western Connecticut Health Network, the facility's umbrella organization.

She discussed the project and showed the plans to the media Tuesday in her office at the hospital.

Since the hospital's announcement in March that the Birthing Center would close by year's end, with baby deliveries moved to Danbury Hospital, concerns have been voiced in the area about the future of New Milford Hospital. Ms. Weymouth said she wants to put their concerns to rest.

"Our $10.8 million investment in this new ER speaks volumes to our commitment to the community," she said Tuesday. "I believe this community deserves top quality medical care."

The new ER will be called the Arnhold Emergency Department, named for the extended Arnhold family, which has members in Litchfield and Fairfield counties. Their initial donation, coupled with other donors' gifts, total $4 million.

Private donations are expected to cover the bulk of the $10.8 million project cost, Ms. Weymouth said.

"The generous gifts we have received are an overwhelming endorsement for our vision and work," said Dr. John Murphy, president and CEO of Western Connecticut Health Network.

"This is the latest network investment in our ongoing commitment to provide the highest care for our patients, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," Dr. Murphy said.

The addition will be on the Treadwell Avenue side of the present hospital. A LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building, it has been designed to be environmentally friendly by S.L.A.M. Cooperative architects.

From Treadwell Avenue, the addition's green, roof-top garden will provide a park-like view. The low-profile design will incorporate a stone and copper facade.

While ambulances will continue to access the ER from the north side of the building, general walk-in access to the emergency department will be from an entrance and the Elm Street side.

"When you have a child bleeding or a husband with a heart attack, you need to clearly know where to go for help," Ms. Weymouth said. "That's an issue with our current ER being located in the rear of the building."

The new emergency department will have eight private rooms for patients. That is the same patient capacity as now, but the rooms will be much larger.

"Our ER right now is essentially a hallway with the staff center at the front and patients' rooms lined up along the hall. That's an outdated, ward-style setting," said Dr. Thomas Koobatian, head of the emergency department.

"With the new department, all the patient-staff will be in the middle so they can see and hear all the patients at the same time. That provides better care and improved safety for our patients," he said.

The rooms will not only provide privacy for patients, but also will improve infection control, Dr. Koobatian said.

"I'm excited," he remarked. "I've met with the architects from S.L.A.M. They have unique ideas that are focused on the patient experience."

The new ER will be "senior friendly" with textured surfaces to reduce the impact of possible falls, railings, counter tops at convenient levels and be brightly lit, Dr. Koobatian said.

Some features will also be geared toward the pediatric patient.

"I think this is going to be wonderful for the town," said Cecilia Buck-Taylor, vice chairwoman of the Town Council. "They'll bring in a lot of talent and expertise as well as new high-tech equipment."

"I'm sad the birthing center is closing," she said, "but they've done their demographics and realize we're an aging population with more seniors who will need emergency services."

The present 5,200-square-foot emergency department was last updated in 2007. The new department is designed to be contemporary, warm, welcoming and patient-centered, Ms. Weymouth said.

The project, begun this summer with ground testing, is expected to be completed in the late spring of 2014, if the land-use and building approvals go according to plan. The actual construction should take 18 months, officials said.

The present ER will be open and functioning throughout the new addition's construction.

Two of three houses owned by the hospital, one of which is condemned, along Treadwell Avenue, will be demolished for the project, Ms. Weymouth said.

stuz@newstimes.com; 860-355-7322