Monday, February 17, 2014

Council: Ask For Inspection of Montgomery Hospital

Aerial view of the hospital with historic part circled. 
Last week, I was contacted after my Diary post on Wednesday ("Too Much Arrogance...") by an independent contractor who volunteered his services to give Montgomery Hospital a FREE inspection, to determine its structural integrity and see if it really is as dangerous as Einstein keeps claiming. I passed the contractor's information on to the Preservation Society, and would be delighted to pass it on to Council as well.

I think, before the municipality issues a demolition permit, Council NEEDS to have the building inspected, for several reasons. ONE, as I've said before, the building is eligible for the National Register of Historical Places. This is something the Preservation Society has, in writing, from the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission. Eligibility affords the same protection that being fully registered does. When anyone knocks down a historic building, certified by PHMC, they can't get federal funding for development on that property. BUT, let me remind you, if the 1930s part of the hospital is renovated, the developer can get 20% federal funding for the project. Real money.

Which brings me to TWO, the developer, Elon/Altman, hasn't been granted funding for their project yet, and knocking down a historic building can put their federal and state funding in jeopardy. If Einstein has their way, they'll demolish the hospital regardless. If Elon can't get funding, they'll back out (remember Logan Square?). We'd be left with a vacant lot, AND the loss of another historic building. The thing is, if Elon reuses the historic part of the property (circled part of the photo above) and demolishes the other buildings, they still have plenty of room to build on Wood Street, or sell that empty lot to another developer. They'd get much more return on their investment (the ONE DOLLAR they paid to Einstein for the lot).

THREE, Norristown's Comprehensive plan specifically calls for the REUSE of certain key buildings in the borough, and this goal is given HIGH priority. Montgomery Hospital heads the list. In fact, the reuse of Montgomery Hospital is already zoned for senior housing, whereas new development on that property is not. Why WOULDN'T Norristown want to keep a certified historic building? Look at the pride we get from successful preservation projects such Rittenhouse, the Scheidt Brewery, the Masonic Hall on West Main, etc. We DON'T get civic pride from hurriedly-planned new development, much of which, in the last few years, has been poorly built (Sandy Hill) or not built at all (Logan Square).

FOUR, the demolition of a 6-story masonry building is MUCH more dangerous to the surrounding community than restoration. Asbestos removal has to be done either way.

FIVE, renovating Montgomery Hospital would create more construction jobs than the proposed demo plus throwing up 3 buildings in a hurry (assuming that project happens at all). Restoration ALWAYS creates more jobs. 

Given all these reasons, I think Council needs to answer to the taxpayers if they DON'T request an inspection of the historic structure before Einstein begins demolition next month. They need to explain why they want to get rid of a historic building, why they want to put the neighborhood in jeopardy from demolition, why they're going against the Comprehensive Plan, why they don't want extra jobs in town, and why they're willing to bet all this against Elon's proposed project before any funding has been approved.

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