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2013-04-10 / Front Page

City orders demolition of old hospital

By Tim Acosta

Kingsville city commissioners on Monday approved the condemnation of the old Kleberg County Hospital due to safety concerns, setting the nearly 100-year-old facility up for demolition.

Mike Kellam, the city’s director of planning and developmental services, said the city has looked at condemning the old hospital since May 2012 because of continued issues with high grass and safety concerns. The building, located across from St. Gertrude’s School in the 400 block of Caesar Ave., has been the site of a number of small fires set by vagrants and has broken windows that are not all boarded up, he said.

“It really hasn’t been utilized at all the last few years,” Kellam said. “It’s unsafe due to its location – for one, it’s right next to an elementary school.”

The hospital was opened in January 1915, the same year as the Kleberg County Courthouse, at a cost of $35,000. At the time it was built, it was the first county-owned hospital in the State of Texas and had an X-Ray Unit. Mayor Sam Fugate said he was born in the hospital, as were countless Kingsville residents who live in the city today.

However, it was closed in the 1980s, after the construction of a new hospital in Kingsville. Debbie Hickman Schlomach, one of the current owners of the building, acknowledged Kellam’s concerns Monday, but asked commissioners to hold the condemnation for six months to allow her an opportunity to get the old hospital boarded up and sold.

“That’s a big building and a big problem over there,” she said. “I don’t know what to do anymore than anybody else, but it needs to be boarded up.”

Schlomach said some of the facility was in relatively good condition and could be refurbished, but admitted she did not have the money or means to completely fix up the building. The old hospital, she said, has served as a storage facility since her family took over the building decades ago, but hasn’t been used in the past six months.

The building still has belongings stored within, she added. City records also showed that the property has more than $18,000 in back taxes that are still owed to Kleberg County.

“I would like all of us to work together to do something,” Schlomach said to the commission. “I’m not saying the building doesn’t need to be condemned, because maybe it does. I’m just saying, at this point today, I don’t think that’s to any of our benefits. I think we need to see what we can do with it.”

Tearing down the building will come with its own set of challenges for the city, Kellam said, since it would likely need some form of environmental testing done due to the likely presence of asbestos. Plus, the size of the building and other structural issues means it could wind up being a costly project.

“But I don’t think that just because it’s got a large dollar amount attached to it in order to (demolish) it is reason enough to allow it to remain in the condition that it’s in,” Kellam said. “I think at this point, we’re at a crossroads where we just have to make a decision on what we’re going to do with this (building).”

Fugate agreed with Kellam, and said the demolition would likely require city resources to get done.

“Whoever tackles this issue, it’s not going to be easy. So, why don’t you let us go ahead and do it for you?” Fugate asked Schlomach.

“I don’t want to do that just yet,” she replied. “I want six months to see what we can do.”

Fugate said the fact that nobody has expressed an interest in the building in more than 30 years is worrying, because it is a sign there may be no use for the facility. In comparison, the city has committed nearly $2 million to restoring the old H.M. King High School, but fully intends to use it as a new city hall once a planned $6 million renovation is completed.

“There’s nothing you can do with it,” Fugate said of the old hospital.

The commission then unanimously voted to condemn the property, meaning Schlomach will have 30 days to begin the building’s demolition. If that is not done within the designated timeframe, the city would do the work, with all of those expenses billed to the property owner, per city ordinance.

There is no set time, though, for the city to demolish the structure, Kellam said.

The condemnation could be reversed, Kellam said, but only if a third party were to offer to restore the property.

“It’s such an expensive proposition to get it up and running again, though,” Kellam said.

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