The U.S. House of Representatives has eliminated one of the final barriers to the construction of a much-needed Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children.

The House has passed a bill to allow the Shriners to sell its property in the Federal Heights area of Salt Lake City.The bill will now be referred to the Senate, which has passed a similar measure.

This is great news to hospital administrators, who say the current 45-bed hospital is outmoded. It is the only Salt Lake area hospital whose specific mission is to serve orthopedic pediatric patients. All patients are given free medical treatment.

Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, has been lobbying his colleagues to remove the legal barrier, thereby enabling Shriners to sell the property and construct a new facility near the University of Utah.

Garn's bill, which passed the Senate last December, removes a legal provision of an existing deed that restricts Shriners Hospital from using available money to construct a new facility.

The existing hospital is constructed on land once owned by the U.S. Department of War. It was sold to the Shriners in 1946 and included a provision that requires reversion of the land (about 71/2 acres) to the government upon sale or relocation.

Garn's bill removes the reversion clause and permits the land and the hospital building on the land to be sold by the Shriners, allowing the proceeds to be applied to the $25 million to $30 million cost of the new hospital.

According to Garn, before the Senate passed the bill, the General Services Administration insisted that the hospital pay $200,000 to compensate the government for the value of the reverter.

Garn protested the imposed fee, saying, "I believe the fact that the Shriners offer a very worthy health-care service for needy children at no charge would enable them to avoid this sort of stingy assessment by the GSA. Nevertheless, Shriners ageed to pay the fee, and has helped the bill to be passed. I am pleased at the cooperative and magnanimous spirit shown by the Shriners."

The Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children is a public charity providing free hospital and medical care for children in 22 hospitals, with 20 located in the United States and one each in Mexico and Canada. The cost to operate all of the Shriners Hospitals, including the burn units, is approximately $110 million a year.

For the past few years, the local unit has averaged 50-60 percent occupancy. Because it serves the greatest land mass of any of the orthopedic units, the majority of its patients are from over 200 miles away.