Wrangell’s elected leaders are considering auctioning off the old community hospital building and surrounding properties. But some fear giving up control of the land, and there are also possible legal issues.
Wrangell Island’s first hospital, Bishop Rowe Hospital, was built in the 1920s and decommissioned in the late 1960s. After being replaced by the red-roofed Wrangell Medical Center just down the street, Bishop Rowe became flats.
Now, the 54-year-old Wrangell Medical Center facility has been replaced with a new hospital a mile away, operated by the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC).
The Wrangell Borough Assembly is trying to figure out what will happen to the old Wrangell Hospital, but the apartments are not on the table.
Late last year, the borough received a letter of interest in ownership of a Florida-based addiction treatment company that is looking to expand into Southeast Alaska. Investigating this possibility took a bit of work, including an assessment. Earlier this year, the Wrangell assembly spent $30,000 on an appraisal of the 1960s hospital and surrounding land. In total, the property was worth $830,000.
Borough staff suggested the site be auctioned off at a surplus public site, which has already been used successfully to auction public properties in Wrangell.
But the idea of putting the old hospital and land up for auction got Assemblyman Jim DeBord thinking during the April 26 assembly meeting.
“You’re giving up control of your site for essentially $300,000 more than the value of the land,” DeBord explained. “I worked there [at the old Wrangell Medical Center, and] we looked at remediating that facility rather than building a new one when it was under city jurisdiction, and it was like an estimate of $20 million to code it. I don’t see anyone coming in with another $20 million to get it where it should be. I think there’s really good potential that somebody buys it for the price and goes in way over their head and then we have another big issue and [the control is] out of our hands.
DeBord also raised another concern – the old hospital site had been discussed as a possible short-term solution to house police and firefighters while the community works to repair or replace its aging public safety building. .
“To me, that’s way too much risk for $800 and a few thousand dollars when the majority of it is land value,” DeBord continued.
Assemblyman Dave Powell said he felt those concerns were overblown.
“When you sell something, you can’t tell what’s going on. I mean, somebody buys it, it’s theirs,” Powell said. “And if we have a problem and later down the road, it doesn’t matter. I’m 100% for getting rid of the properties we have, we have no reason to have them.
However, Powell agreed that he thought the hospital could be important in the process of overhauling the Wrangell public safety facility.
“But,” Powell said, “I’m not going to wait three to five years, and we sit on [the old hospital] property on which we may collect taxes. It’s ridiculous.”
Borough Superintendent Jeff Good told assembly members that if the borough had the millions of dollars in funding to demolish the old hospital and prepare the site, it would be an ideal location for a new one. public security building. But the money is not there.
“There are a ton of problems with [the old hospital]. We start talking about cleaning up the public safety building – I would much rather do that than start trying to clean up the medical center because it has a lot more problems than [the] public safety [building]”Good told the assembly. “I certainly don’t want to start cleaning up Wrangell Medical Center.”
Good said the borough is considering a number of potential options to remediate or replace the Wrangell Public Safety Building. Good also pointed out that the borough spends just under $100,000 a year to keep the old hospital from further deteriorating — another reason to potentially sell the site.
“We still provide it with heat, we still provide it with electricity. And then we continue to do maintenance on this building. Because if we don’t then it’s going to collapse, it would be a danger to public safety,” Good said.
Beyond the borough’s potential uses during the Public Safety Building Replacement Project, Assemblywoman Patty Gilbert also raised a potential legal issue with the auction of the former Wrangell Medical Center.
Borough code states that a sale of borough property over $1 million must come before Wrangell voters, but it’s unclear whether an auction of property who couldbut maybe not, net above the million dollar mark would fall under this law.
“When we go out to bid, […] are we in financial and legal danger if we offer a property, and it exceeds the million [dollars]?” Gilbert asked at the end of the discussion.
Wrangell’s assembly has postponed moving to a public auction of the property until its May 10 meeting, so officials can consult with the district attorney about whether a $1 million bid could cause problems. Borough staff say the earliest the old hospital could be auctioned off would be mid-May.
Contact KSTK at [email protected] or (907) 874-2345.