Published April 27. 2014 4:00AM
Waterford — The structures of the former Seaside Regional Center off Shore Road have sat vacant in the hands of the state for the better part of two decades in hopes that developer Mark Steiner finally will purchase the property for $8 million.
Vacant, that is, except for a few bats and other things that squeak and live in the dark, and the vandals who have found their way into the H-shaped main hospital building.
Town Planning Director Dennis Goderre said in an email that the town received a proposal Friday to change the zoning of the Seaside property. The Planning and Zoning Commission will receive the proposal during its meeting Monday.
The Day entered three buildings at the octogenarian former institution for the developmentally disabled Thursday with permission from the state Department of Administrative Services. State staffers did not enter the buildings with the journalists, but required Day staff to sign waivers releasing the department from any liability for injury.
The elements have taken their toll on the buildings. The largest of the three, the main hospital - designed by famed architect Cass Gilbert - is in the most disrepair. Paint peels from the walls in large, flaky sheets; ceiling tiles lie strewn and soggy on the floor.
The State Historic Preservation Office has said it does not object to demolition of the buildings since the state has determined they are unsound.
But others wonder whether there's something to be saved on the property, which joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.
"Anything is salvageable if you've got the money," Town Clerk Robert Nye said Thursday.
Nye, who also is the municipal historian, toured the hospital and nurse's building designed by Gilbert in 2006 with Gilbert scholar Barbara S. Christen. The complex served as a tuberculosis treatment center when it was built in the 1930s.
"... we both thought the two Gilbert buildings were salvageable. … Since there had been no heat for a long time, the buildings were damp, I'm sure there was a good deal of mold, and there was a rank smell," he wrote in an email Thursday.
First Selectman Daniel Steward wrote Friday in an email that town officials viewed a new plan from Steiner about a month ago. He said the nurse's building may yet avoid demolition.
State Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford, has called the state a "lousy landlord."
She said Thursday that when the state closed Seaside in the 1990s, "those buildings essentially were whole."
"It's devastating to see what happens to it, because the weather ruins the inside and the outside of the building," she said in a phone interview.
Natural light was sufficient to illuminate the interior of the hospital building Thursday, so those entering could avoid shards of glass, dislodged tiles and piles of drywall dust on the floor. Look up, and a few birds' nests could be seen.
Most furniture was gone, except a few bureaus with the drawers spilling out, and graffiti-tagged commercial refrigerators lying on their sides. Other relics include a cup dispenser on a wall, still filled with plastic cups; and an apparent nurse's schedule from 1985 abandoned on the floor.
Concrete stairwells lead to scenic ocean views on the second and third floors and to damp rooms filled with the squeaking of animals in a basement.
Fallen pictures with childhood themes such as the circus clutter the hallway and the alternating sky blue and coral pink rooms on the third floor.
The basement requires a flashlight. One room contains silhouette paintings of children playing sports. From afar they look like shadows. In that same room, the fragments of a busted piano decay in the corner by the doorway.
The duplex cottage and superintendent's building, both designed by New London architect Fred S. Langdon, show significantly less interior damage.
The superintendent's home has almost no peeling paint and the debris there is minimal, leaving hardwood floors in clear view. Blinds rest neatly against windows.
Two dead bats lie in the doorway of the cottage.
DAS did not permit The Day to enter the narrow employee building - another Gilbert creation - where nurses and other staff once lived.
DAS Staff Counsel Jeffrey Beckham, who was present at Seaside Thursday, said after the visit that the seawall along the oceanfront had been battered by storms over the years. He said water entering the buildings had caused much of the interior damage, as had the wind.
DAS Director of Management Services Douglas J. Moore said that if the buildings were to be used again, hazardous materials teams would need to clear the buildings of such dangers as asbestos.
Moore and Beckham said the state had hired security and had boarded up parts of buildings to prevent vandals from entering. Moore said the theft of copper pipes is the state's main concern when it comes to vandals.
Moore said of apparent vandalism, "Where there's a will, there's a way."
Asked about the size of the security team, Beckham said, "We don't talk about that."