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Fate of current Washington Co. Hospital building uncertain

October 31, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- After a new regional medical center opens on Robinwood Drive in more than a year, the current Washington County Hospital building on East Antietam Street might be demolished.

Or hospital officials might work out something better and less expensive -- reselling the property and building as is.

"A lot of folks have looked at it, but only a couple have expressed interest in it," said James P. Hamill, the president and CEO of Washington County Health System, the hospital's parent company.

The regional medical center is scheduled to be built by December 2010. It probably will open a few weeks after that, Hamill said Friday.

From that point, it will take time to remove equipment from the current hospital building and otherwise prepare it to be vacated, he said.

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Kathleen Maher, the City of Hagerstown's planning director, said she met with hospital officials a few weeks ago.

"Their only plan seemed to be to sell it," she said.

Washington County Health System's state-approved schedule for a new medical center includes demolishing the current hospital building.

The Maryland Health Care Commission approved an amended version of the schedule in January 2008, said Paul Parker, the commission's chief of certificate of need.

The health system had until June 2008 to obligate, or commit to, the regional health center.

Then, construction had to start within four months after obligation. Construction had to take no more than 36 months.

Parker said the second phase that's part of the state-approved certificate of need is demolishing the current hospital building.

The health system has to commit to demolition within 12 months of finishing the regional medical center. Demolition must start within four months of the contract's effective date and has to last no more than 24 months.

The health system has budgeted $3.74 million for demolition, out of about $290 million total for the regional medical center project, Parker said.

Selling the property and the building instead would save the demolition cost and would be a revenue source, Hamill said.

He promised the health system won't leave a vacant hospital building to deteriorate.

Maher's talk with health system officials was part of a citywide rezoning effort. The neighborhood around the hospital is one of two designated "special planning areas."

Maher said the hospital property is zoned R-4, in which residential and office uses are permitted.

The Pangborn parking deck is in a Downtown-Mixed Use zone -- housing and some commercial uses are permitted.

A nearby hospital parking lot is in an industrial zone.

Some Hagerstown City Council members, during their Sept. 29 meeting, expressed frustration about not knowing the latest on the eventual plans for the current hospital.

"We still don't know if they're going to tear that building down ..." Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said. "It's probably zoned for all of the things we don't want there."

On Friday, Hamill said health system officials have had ongoing meetings with city staff -- about plans for a sewer line for the regional medical center -- and some council members.

The health system will continue to update the city and county about decisions such as the sale or demolition of the hospital building and property, he said.

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