Construction of a five-story medical center in Springfield--where residents, public officials and officials from rival health care organizations have been battling for years over medical facilities--is expected to begin within a few weeks.

The center, to be constructed by Inova Health Systems Inc., will have a 24-hour emergency room, an outpatient surgery center, doctors' offices for about 50 physicians and a community education center equipped with Internet-access computers for those who want to research health issues, Inova officials said last week.

The facility will be on Walker Lane, which was extended and widened last spring, northwest of the intersection of the Franconia-Springfield Parkway and Beulah Street.

In addition, the Virginia Community College system is expected to build a $30 million "medical-education campus" on a nearby six-acre site that it purchased from Inova. The facility, which will house nursing-education programs and other medical-education programs, will be constructed south of the Franconia-Springfield Metro station, in what is currently the aging Springfield Industrial Facility.

"As a package, it's the type of redevelopment the Franconia-Springfield area has needed for years," said county Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee).

H. Patrick Walters, senior vice president for systems and new business development at Inova, said the new facility represents the direction that health care is headed these days--away from long hospital stays and toward more outpatient surgery.

Ground was broken last week for the project, which is scheduled to open in the spring of 2001. About half the 140,000-square-foot building will be for doctors' offices, Walters said.

"There are a lot of physicians in Northern Virginia who would . . . like to move their offices out toward that area, which is growing pretty rapidly," Walters said.

Total cost to build the Inova Franconia Springfield Medical Center is expected to be $37 million.

The groundbreaking represents a triumph for Inova over its rival, health-care giant Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., which had attempted to build a hospital in Springfield but gave up earlier this year because of fierce opposition from local residents and public officials.

Columbia had teamed with the Arlington Health Foundation to purchase the National Hospital for Orthopedics and Rehabilitation in Pentagon City and said it planned to move it to Springfield. The partnership renamed the facility Pentagon City Hospital.

However, public officials and Springfield civic activists opposed moving the hospital to their area, arguing that it was unnecessary and would threaten the viability of nearby Mount Vernon Hospital, which is owned by Inova.

Opposition to the construction of a hospital in Springfield even united former foes--former Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairmen Audrey Moore, a Democrat, and Republican Jack Herrity--who jointly launched a campaign last year to stop the construction.

In December, the Health Systems Agency of Northern Virginia, which oversees health care planning in the area, dealt a crushing blow to the proposed move by recommending that the Columbia partnership be denied a permit to build the Springfield hospital.

In January, the nonprofit Arlington Health Foundation and for-profit Columbia/HCA announced they were dissolving the partnership. Pentagon City Hospital officials announced late last month that they would close the facility within two months.

Kauffman said construction of the Inova facility to Springfield is "long overdue. . . . Not only are we getting the outpatient facility [the area needs], we're getting a 24-hour emergency room."