Old Ketchikan hospital in danger of collapse

By Leila Kheiry

Ketchikan Daily News

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 30 2011 3:46 p.m. MST

KETCHIKAN, Alaska — The old hospital on Bawden Street continues to deteriorate, with some upper boards and cornice material separating, but not yet falling.

City of Ketchikan Public Works Director Clif Allen said the city was working with Juneau-based consultant Carson Dorn to come up with a plan for demolishing the privately owned structure.

After a notice to vacate and demolish went unheeded several years ago, the city stepped in, citing public safety, to board up windows and restrict access to the old building. The former hospital, more recently called Bawden Street Apartments, has been deteriorating for many years, but that process accelerated recently, leading to a sagging roof and a bulging exterior wall. City officials have said the building is likely to collapse this winter.

"You know it's going to happen," he said, but it's difficult to predict when.

Allen said the city was prepared to close the street if crews predicted imminent collapse. In the meantime, he said, one of the ideas under consideration was to place a netting on the outside of the building similar to what is installed on rock walls, to contain any material that falls.

Allen said he would like to avoid sending crews inside the building, which he said is dangerous and full of mold. He said he didn't know when Carson Dorn would complete a demolition plan. The company was talking to Environmental Protection Agency officials about the building's asbestos, he said.

Normally, federal EPA regulations would require asbestos abatement before demolition. However, Allen noted in an earlier memo, EPA regulations allow structurally unsound buildings to be demolished without the usual abatement. In that situation, though, it's possible that all of the building material following demolition would be declared hazardous and would have to be disposed of in a more expensive manner than otherwise would be required.

The city has included $1 million for the demolition project in the draft 2012 budget.

The city issued a notice to vacate and demolish the Bawden Street Apartments building in 2008 to then-owner Joseph Burns. After losing an appeal challenging the order, Burns donated the building to the Seattle-based nonprofit group Rehabilitation Research Institute.

RRI CEO Kenneth Carpenter, who has not returned telephone calls seeking comment, said earlier that his organization wanted to renovate the building into a place for artists. When the city offered to buy the condemned property for $1, Carpenter responded with a counteroffer to sell it for $10 million.

In hopes of recouping some of its costs after demolishing the old hospital, the city has two options, according to City Attorney Mitch Seaver. The first is an assessment lien, which would be placed on the building's next property tax bill, leading to foreclosure if it remained unpaid. In that case, the property would end up in the city's hands in about a year, after the city paid any outstanding Ketchikan Gateway Borough property taxes. Once it belonged to the city, Seaver wrote in a memo, the property could be sold or kept for public use.

The second option Seaver suggested would be to sue the owner for liability, which would make RRI responsible for the city's costs. A judgment could be written against the nonprofit's assets, including the Bawden Street property, which then could be sold with the proceeds applied to the judgment. That process also would take about a year, Seaver wrote.

Information from: Ketchikan Daily News, http://www.ketchikandailynews.com

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