Residents to get hospital tour before vote

Buy Photo Photos by Tim Martin/The Day An employee mows the lawn Thursday near the original administration building of the former Norwich Hospital in Preston.

Preston - Town residents can tour the former Norwich Hospital property Oct. 27-28 by bus in advance of upcoming meetings and referendum on a proposed $4 million local match to obtain a $4 million low-cost state loan and a nearly $1 million federal grant to continue the cleanup.

The Preston Redevelopment Agency is preparing to make its case to town officials and residents on the need for the $4 million in matching local funds to support the $4 million low-interest state loan and a $964,000 federal Economic Development Administration grant to clean up the former Norwich Hospital property.

If voters approve the plan, the combined nearly $9 million in funding would be enough to clear all but five buildings from the 393-acre campus to prepare it for future development. The massive, sprawling Kettle Building that served as the main administration building in the final years of the hospital's operation would be among those demolished with the funds.

The PRA will hold two public bus tours Saturday, Oct. 27 at 10 a.m. and Sunday, Oct. 28 at 2 p.m. to show residents the progress being made to date on demolition of decaying buildings, salvage of usable scrap metal, slate and bricks and other environmental cleanup of the former state hospital property.

During the 30- to 45-minute tours, residents will see activity at seven buildings on the main portion of the Route 12 campus, but because of the ongoing construction will not be allowed to get off the bus, PRA member Linda Riegel said. Residents are asked to park in designated areas near the cemetery at the hospital property and in front of the Kettle Building to board the buses.

The first stop will give participants a view vista of work done, in progress and yet to start in a central campus spot. Decaying buildings stand next to rubble remains of the former laundry and powerhouse buildings. Missing from the view are two former rusted 750,000-gallon oil tanks that have been removed. Salvage from those tanks yielded $75,000 put toward other demolition on the property.

The bus also will drive past neat piles of red bricks awaiting cleaning and stacking for an interested New York buyer who hopes to reuse them in construction in Manhattan.

The PRA's contract with demolition contractor Manafort Bros. calls for the company to receive all salvage rights, with that money subtracted from demolition costs. Major buildings have been removed at no demolition cost to the town. But environmental abatement - lead paint, asbestos and in some cases expensive PCB removal - have eaten most of the grant money obtained to date, PRA officials said.

Preston has received $2.2 million in grants from the state of Connecticut, plus $1.75 million from the EPA. The town has contributed $300,000 in total as matching funds. The grants have paid for cleanup and demolition of about 20 of the 55 buildings on the 393-acre campus. Only one building, the original hospital and administration building, has been deemed salvageable and is being shored up for future use.

While the tours are designed to give residents a first-hand look at the hospital cleanup, PRA officials also will give a presentation for a joint meeting of the Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall on the financial issues related to the $4 million request.

Terms of the state loan were considered to be 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.

The PRA hired Mark Chapman of Independent Bond Investment Consultants to review financial options for the local match. PRA Chairman Sean Nugent said the agency will make specific recommendations on how to fund the local match.

Town officials are under a tight timeframe for deciding on the local match. The state Department of Economic and Community Development has given Preston a Dec. 1 deadline for accepting terms of the state loan. While the PRA has asked for an extension of that deadline, the agency also must be ready to meet it, Nugent said.

The Board of Finance would have to schedule the town meeting and referendum. The PRA would like the town meeting to be held Nov. 15 and the referendum Nov. 27.

c.bessette@theday.com

The Abraham Ribicoff Research Center Building, on the grounds of the former Norwich Hospital in Preston.
The Abraham Ribicoff Research Center Building, on the grounds of the former Norwich Hospital in Preston.
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