Ideas for old hospital building include veterans’ rehab & drug treatment center
Economic development officials have equipped the Morgan County Commissioners with key pieces of information to help as they determine the fate of War Memorial Hospital’s buildings, which will become empty in the spring.
EDA members Jeanne Mozier, Bill Clark and Mary Lou Trump assembled a list of options for the property, which includes 52,000 square feet of medical space and approximately 13 acres of land on “hospital hill” at the top of Fairfax Street in downtown Berkeley Springs.
The group, asked by the commissioners to summarize possibilities, forward, proceeded on the assumption that Morgan County taxpayers shouldn’t bear the costs of maintaining an empty facility once medical services move out of the current buildings.
One option would be the outright sale of the property, with the county retaining the 911 tower and rights of way to that tower.
A suggested sale price could begin at $2 million, said Mozier, but she stressed that it’s difficult to find a comparable property to use for valuing the real estate.
Notes from the group’s report called the building “functionally obsolete.”
A second option is demolition of the building and sale of the land for some kind of development. EDA members estimated the demolition would cost $500,000, possibly more if there were hazardous materials to remove and dispose of.
A third option is for the county to hang on to the building and “mothball” it, or provide enough maintenance that it doesn’t deteriorate while it remains vacant. Yearly maintenance is estimated to cost $75,000, which includes utility operations, security, insurance and regular inspections.
A number of other scenarios include making basic upgrades to the building so the whole structure, or sections of it, could be rented out for separate users.
Tenants of the building could include paying renters, local non-profits or other service agencies.
Redeveloping the building through major renovations would require a big investment, Mozier said, including a project manager and planning consultants.
Some “potential ideas” for occupants of the building included:
Higher education, satellite campus.
Drug rehabilitation center, Veteran’s residential rehab center, Residency program location for the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, Commercial businesses, Technology center.
Among the various ideas presented to the commissioners, Mozier said the veterans’ rehabilitation center had some real merits, including the ability to put the hospital’s residential rooms to use right away.
Mozier and Clark said Pennsylvania developer Judd Roth had approached them about possible grants or tax credits available for projects that provide services for veterans.
Roth had previously helped the county plan a senior housing project for the north end of Berkeley Springs.
Commissioner Brad Close asked if a veterans’ rehab project could include treatment services for the whole community.
Audrey Morris said she had heard other towns’ concerns about offering services to homeless veterans.
“Where do they go when they finish their program?” she said.
Mozier agreed that was a question to consider.
Commissioner Brenda Hutchinson said that project was a good match for the building.
Clark said Roth was still investigating some aspects of the project and would bring more details to county officials at a later date.
Another option, and one that was considered even before the sale of the hospital, was bringing medical students from the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine to do their residencies at the old hospital.
“They’re waiting on us to give them a place to be,” said Neil McLaughlin, War Memorial President. “It’s in our court.”
Commissioner Hutchinson asked what kind of space the program was looking for.
According to McLaughlin, 12 to 16 medical residents would live in the community, offering health services through a partnership with Valley Health.
“If we want to pursue that, we need to reach out to them,” he said.
Commissioner Close arranged to follow up with the school on that option.
“They’re really interested,” confirmed Bill Clark.
Mozier urged the commissioners to move forward with creating promotional materials for the property if they were interested in selling it outright.
County officials indicated they wanted to find out more about potential occupants and partners for the space before considering a sale of the real estate.