Since closing its doors in April 2006, Philipsburg Area Hospital has been a collection of vacant buildings.
Soon, it could be a vacant lot — and that could be a good thing for the area.
Gov. Tom Corbett’s office announced Friday that a $2.5 million contract had been awarded to Phase One Development of Pittsburgh for the demolition of the antiquated former medical facility, returning it to a large field of green space in Rush Township on a hill north of Philipsburg.
“By demolishing the structures on the (Philipsburg Area Hospital) campus and returning the land to green space, we intend to make the property more attractive and marketable to real estate developers,” said Department of General Services Secretary Sheri Phillips in a news release.
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“We have been working across several state agencies to determine the best way to protect the interests of the local community while at the same time deciding how best to get this property back on the local tax rolls where it can contribute to the local economy.”
The property has not been on the tax rolls for a long time. Before it was Philipsburg Area Hospital, it was Philipsburg State General Hospital. The large main brick structure was built in the 1930s, and the facility provided health care to the bustling mining industry in the area.
The facilities grew, a wing here and a nursing school there, until the state first shuttered it in 1991, but it wasn’t long before it reopened under its new name, and private local control. The building, and its acreage, however, still remain the property of the state.
That means that the state has been footing the bill for eight years of maintenance and security on a building that pays no dividends because no one wants to buy it. DGS has offered the hospital property for sale, lowering the price from the $1 million range offered by Dr. Larry Adams at auction before his drug conviction scuttled a possible resurrection to $500,000 in 2010 and $225,000 in 2011.
“I think the one thing a lot of people realize now is that building is really not suitable for anything other than what it was,” said Moshannon Valley Economic Development Partnership President Jeffrey Herr. “Obviously when you look at the property itself, it’s very attractive, if the building’s not there.”
That’s why MVEDP has advocated this move for quite some time, hoping that someday the state would agree that tearing down the building and stopping the hemorrhaging of $250,000 a year in taxpayer money to keep the grass mowed, the property safe and people away was the right prescription.
State Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont, is happy to see the decision finally made.
“We’ve been at this for years,” he said Monday. “A lot of people are interested in that property, but just not that building.”
Wozniak says there’s a special place in his heart for the old facility. He was one of the last people to have surgery there, a sleep apnea procedure by the late Dr. Lewis Newberg, who practiced his groundbreaking treatment in Philipsburg for several years before the closing.
DGS said that work on the site is scheduled to begin in late fall, with completion by spring 2015. Phase One Development could not confirm that or be more specific about a timeline on Monday. In fact, a company representative sounded surprised about the announcement when called.
On Tuesday, owner Steve Cioppa said that demolition should begin “definitely within a month or two.”
“It’s still up in the air for the actual start date,” he said, adding that final contracts with the state are still being executed.
According to DGS, the project will include “demolition of all vertical structures...including hazardous material abatement, general demolition and all site work.” Herr said that the hazardous materials do include asbestos.
No one knows yet what the future of the property will bring.
“Hopefully something will come in that will bring jobs to the area,” Herr said.
But there is no telling on what that could be.
“We have heard things. There is lots of interest,” Herr said. “From a development standpoint, there are a lot of possibilities.”