by Jack ShinarConstruction on a 3,600-square-foot equine medical facility at Golden Gate Fields can finally begin. The project was approved April 9 by the planning commission in Albany, Calif., where the track is located.The metal-framed building will serve as a triage center for Golden Gate Fields, Bay Meadows, and the fair circuit, according to Peter Tunney, vice president at Golden Gate Fields. A track official told the planning commission that horses with very serious surgical needs would be sent to UC-Davis, said Dave Dowswell, planning manager for the city of Albany.Unless there is an appeal of the planning commission's unanimous decision, which Dowswell said was unlikely since no opposition was expressed, construction can begin immediately. The contractor, Simon Hebeler, of Wright Avenue Builders of Richmond, Calif., is expected to complete the project within four months, track officials said.Northern California has been without an equine treatment facility since Bay Meadows tore down its hospital in 1996 following the sale of its barn area.Magna Entertainment Corp., which owns Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields, had pledged to build a new facility when it purchased Golden Gate in 2000. But delays in getting the project under way caused quite a bit of grumbling and skepticism on the part of horsemen, who brought the issue to the attention of the California Horse Racing Board in February.In March, Tunney said the building was originally planned for the Golden Gate Fields barn area, which is in the city of Berkeley. Officials there blocked the track from getting the necessary building permits. That forced officials to switch the site to closer to the grandstand/clubhouse, which is located in Albany.Tunney said that once the new site was selected, it took six months for veterinarians to agree on the design of the proposed center. Then, a power line was discovered under the site, which forced another change in plans. Instead of diverting the power line, the builders agreed to construct a raised foundation, Tunney said.The veterinary building is to include an operating room, an isolation area, an X-ray facility, and a recovery center. A hoist system will be constructed to lift injured horses from the building entrance to the X-ray and surgery areas. Track veterinarians will staff the facility.Dr. Roger Hunter, who addressed the CHRB on the veterinarians' behalf in February, said the new facility will make use of an X-ray unit and operating table left over from the old Bay Meadows hospital. He said a fund drive to purchase new equipment would be launched once the building is constructed.