By DAVID GREEN
The time is drawing near for Morenci city council members to make a decision about the former Morenci Area Hospital property.
Councilors discussed the issue at their regular meeting Monday, keeping in mind a desire by property owner ProMedica Health System for a decision by the end of the year.
Mayor Keith Pennington reviewed two proposals presented by ProMedica. One calls for the hospital and EMS buildings to be given to the city, as is. The other would transfer the EMS building to the city, but raze the hospital. The land would be cleared, planted to grass and given to the city.
City administrator/clerk Renée Schroeder mentioned environmental concerns, including asbestos and buried tanks, and said the city would want to make sure that it was protected from future liability if the building were demolished.
Schroeder obtained quotes from two firms that would review the environmental impact, one charging $200 and the other $500. On Tuesday she learned that Rod Cole of A+ Environmental would review data about the property, write an opinion and attend the Dec. 14 council meeting for $400.
Mayor Pennington asked council and audience members for opinions on the issue.
Audience member Jan Sampson asked if there were suggestions about how the former hospital could be used if it were saved.
Pennington said he’s heard a suggestion of converting the building to use for all city offices. City supervisor Barney Vanderpool pointed out that the facility would have to be made handicap accessible and that much of the heating system is the original installed in 1961.
It would be a shame to knock it down, he said, but he anticipates high renovation and maintenance costs.
The recently invested about $10,000 in updating the heating/cooling system at the current city hall, Pennington said.
Councilor Leasa Slocum recalled seeing water damage in one portion of the building.
Moving would provide more space than needed, Sampson said, which would lead to maintenance on unneeded space.
“It would be significantly more room than we have now, more room than we would ever need,” Pennington said, “but you could do some things that you’re not doing now.”
Perhaps a portion could be demolished and a portion saved, he said. There’s also been talk about asking ProMedica to pay the city to take it—saving them the demolition costs—and using that money to renovate.
Pennington said he isn’t advocating for any of these approaches, but he wants a thorough discussion of the issue before a decision is made.
Schroeder summed up the dilemma facing council.
“On the one hand, people see where it could become a huge money pit and a burden to taxpayers because we see where we might have to keep putting money into it,” she said. “On the hand I think we really think about it because we don’t want to have any regrets afterward.”
In the past, for example, many people have been sorry that Stair Auditorium and Hotel Saulsbury were demolished. They were torn down because taxpayers couldn’t afford the cost, she said, and this might be the same situation.
“Unless ProMedica is willing to give us a lot of money to fix it up,” Pennington said, “we don’t have money to fix it up.”
After the city attorney reviews ProMedica’s two offers and the environmental review is presented, Pennington expects council members to be better informed about the issue.
Schroeder said ProMedica expects to begin construction soon for the renovation of the Charles Fay Village and hopes city council will make a decision by the end of the year.
TOWER TRUCK—German Township near Archbold approved Morenci’s bid for the used tower truck owned by Archbold and the township.
BIDS—Vanderpool suggested the city should seek bids now for snow removal. A year ago, a firm was hired to remove snow from walks when property owners failed to clean their walks. Bids are due at city hall by Dec. 10.