Vandalism adds to growing decay of old HMH facility
By Louie Graves
Vandalism has joined disuse in hastening the decay of the old Howard Memorial Hospital building.
The 18-plus acre campus in the middle of a residential neighborhood is still being used by some physicians for their private practice, but the main building is empty and forlorn, and has become the target of vandals.
County Judge Kevin Smith is having county employees cover broken windows with sheets of plywood, and some doors will be chained and get extra locks in order to keep persons from entering the building. In addition to the broken glass, four-wheelers are leaving ruts in the landscape.
The building – actually three stages of development and expansion during its 50-plus years of usage – has set empty since 2009 when the hospital dedicated its new campus west of town. Since then, Judge Smith has unsuccessfully sought new tenants or some kind of resolution for the county-owned building.
There may be help coming if the county is to raze the building. Judge Smith said last Friday that after several years of being rejected, the county has a better chance of having a grant approved to ‘abate’ asbestos which would enable the county to demolish the building. All asbestos must be removed before the structure can be torn down, he said.
Earlier estimates put the county’s cost for removing the asbestos at $250,000. “I’m sure that’s gone up considerably,” Judge Smith said, as he and county shop foreman Jes Witherspoon looked at the smashed windows which needed boarding.
The hospital was built after World War II as a memorial tribute to the county’s veterans of that war. It was originally called Howard County Memorial Hospital. It underwent several expansions and renovations before residents approved a sales tax to build the new facility.