What will become of the current hospital?
A three-member committee of the county’s Economic Development Authority reported to the Morgan County Commission last week on their efforts to weigh possible uses of the present hospital property after the new War Memorial Hospital opens next spring.
Among the options being considered were various lease scenarios, outright sale of the hospital building and grounds, and demolition of the 55,000-sq.-ft. brick facility.
Committee members Jeanne Mozier, Mary Lou Trump and Bill Clark outlined the data they had collected, and what further information the county might need to make the best decision about the fate of the 1930’s building and surrounding property.
Mozier said it is crucial to gather documents from War Memorial Hospital about the building’s heating and cooling systems, electrical and plumbing design and ownership of equipment.
One of the challenges of changing the use of the building from a hospital to a non-medical use is how to divide the building into smaller sections that could be leased out, if needed.
Separating the heating and air conditioning controls and service into smaller sections will require engineering consultations, Mozier and Clark said.
One possible use of the building could be for higher education, Mozier said.
Local colleges could offer classes there, but no specific plan is in place to work toward that goal.
“There’s nobody standing in line to step in,” Mozier said.
Other ideas floated during the discussion included a rehab center of some kind, a call center or a new home for non-profit agencies like the Senior Center.
The committee also sought information about demolishing the building.
A preliminary estimate for demolition came in between $325,000 and $350,000, said Mozier. That cost would not include any disposal of hazardous material encountered during the work, she said.
More info needed
Mozier said it is too early to make a
decision about future uses of the hospital property.
“The committee feels, at this point, we don’t have all the information needed,” she said.
She did say it would be helpful for the commissioners to set a time frame or deadline for finding an occupant for the building, or making a decision about disposing of it.
Commissioner Brad Close had urged the same move in an earlier discussion, saying he didn’t want the building to become a burden on county taxpayers.
“The hospital will be out of there by the spring, and we should be ready to advertise it then. But we next expert help to determine what to advertise,” said Mary Lou Trump.
Currently, Valley Health pays the county $57,200 monthly to use the facility.
When they move to the new facility on Fairview Drive in April, the hospital building will require maintenance and oversight. Officials don’t know what that will cost, though they confirmed they have been setting aside a portion of the monthly rent.
Economic Development Director Bill Clark said recent walk-throughs of the hospital were helpful for assessing the value and possible uses.
Some of the heating and cooling systems were less than five years old, he said.
Some features of the building could be removed after it’s no longer a hospital, such as medical ventilation systems, he said.
“I think there’s potential there, too. I’m not to the point of wanting to tear it down,” said Commissioner Brenda Hutchinson.
“If you look at the Community Center building and the hospital, the hospital wins. At least it’s sprinkled,” she said.
Resident Ron Martin suggested they check with the City of Cumberland about their experience owning a former hospital building.
Close asked if all of the buildings and sections of the hospital campus are on the same plat.
Hutchinson said there are several separate pieces, some of which could be sold individually.
Mozier said they could consider selling some of the land to finance upgrades of the building.
Resident Dawn White suggested the county seek some funds from the Community Reinvestment Pool to pay for a feasibility study for the building, based on local demographics.
Clark and Mozier said such a study was something they had already envisioned.
Other medical property
In related business, county officials will continue to hammer out details of a lease agreement under which Valley Health will use the medical practice building where Dr. Hashem’s office is located.
The property, on Gayle Drive behind Food Lion, includes two buildings and several acres.
Currently, Valley Health pays the county $4,375 monthly to use the building, though the lease has lapsed.
Commissioner Hutchinson said she is in favor of extending the lease, but wanted to discuss the possibility of the county retaining use of several acres around the office for other purposes.
Commissioner Close said Valley Health may want to renegotiate its payment or lease details, if the property size changes.
Commissioner Dugan removed herself from the discussion because she is an employee of Valley Health.