Residents get look behind the security fence at former Norwich Hospital

Dana Jensen Debbie Combs takes a picture during a tour for Preston residents of the Preston portion of the Norwich Hospital property on Saturday.

Preston – About 40 residents got an inside look at the former Norwich Hospital property today, equipped with color-coded maps showing buildings that are now gone, others that will be demolished soon and about a dozen more that could come down if residents support a proposed $4 million referendum bond that would match nearly $5 million in state and federal funds.

The Preston Redevelopment Agency led the tour today and will lead a second tour at 2 p.m. Sunday to show residents the progress the agency has made to date using close to $4 million in state and federal grants matched with $300,000 in town funds. Sunday's tour will start in the parking lot adjacent to the cemetery.

PRA member Jim Bell, who oversees funding for the volunteer agency, told residents the federal grants received to date have come in $200,000 increments that must be designated for specific buildings or portions of the hospital property. Some buildings with no environmental contamination have been torn down for salvage value at no cost to the town by demolition contractor Manafort Bros.

Now, he said, most of the buildings left standing have big price tags for environmental cleanup, including lead paint, asbestos and PCBs in window caulking that have seeped into window frames and even bricks. Those buildings, including the massive Kettle Building at the center of campus, would require much larger sums of money.

The town has received approval for a $4 million low-cost state loan that requires a $4 million town match. That same match can be used to cover an additional $964,250 federal Economic Development Administration grant, giving the town nearly $9 million in state, federal and local funds to continue the hospital property cleanup. Bell said if those funds are obtained, the agency could tear down all but about five to 10 buildings.

Terms of the state loan were considered to be very favorable by town officials. The town would pay 1.5 percent interest, but no interest in the first five years. For every 100 permanent jobs created by future development on the hospital property, $1 million of the loan would be forgiven outright. And the town could use revenue from the future sale of the property to pay off its local match bond and past legal bills before being obligated to pay the state.

The PRA hired Mark Chapman of Independent Bond Investment Consultants to review financial options for the local match. Bell said the agency will make specific recommendations on how to fund the local match during a joint meeting of the Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen at 7 p.m. Thursday at Preston Veterans' Memorial School.

c.bessette@theday.com

If You Go

Bus tour What: Tour of former Norwich Hospital property for residents When: 2 p.m. today Where: Park in lot between Kettle Building and cemetery
Joint meeting
Boards of Selectmen and Finance
What: Meeting to discuss request for $4 million in town matching funds for hospital cleanup project When: 7 p.m. Thursday Where: Preston Veterans' Memorial School

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