Preston returns $200,000 federal grant to clean up former hospital building

Preston — After having spent some long days and nights over the past four years filling out complex state and federal grant applications, members of the Preston Redevelopment Agency had a strange experience last week.

The agency had to say "thanks, but no thanks," to a $200,000 federal Environmental Protection Agency abatement grant already approved for the town.

In late May, the town received three $200,000 EPA grants for abatement of specific buildings at the former Norwich Hospital campus. One grant was to have covered asbestos, lead paint and other contamination from the Seymour Building at 25 Riverview Way on the main campus.

But as the 140 visitors who toured the campus on June 7 saw, the Seymour Building already is a pile of rubble on the ground.

The PRA used other grant money to speed up abatement work at the building this spring to accommodate another federal agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Over the years, Preston has offered use of the former hospital grounds at no charge to the FBI, the Connecticut National Guard, other law enforcement agencies and fire departments for training exercises.

In May, the FBI wanted to conduct a bombing training session. PRA Chairman Sean Nugent said the agency couldn't allow bomb training in an unabated building - spraying asbestos, lead and maybe PCB contamination throughout the building, posing a safety hazard to FBI participants.

So the PRA abated the building, then allowed the FBI to use it, and then demolished it in late May.

"At this time, we regretfully decline acceptance of the above referenced EPA grant in the amount of $200,000 for the remediation of 25 Riverview Way," First Selectman Robert Congdon wrote to the agency on June 5. "It is Preston's sincere hope that our timely notification of our inability to accept this grant that another worthy project will benefit from these funds. Again, on behalf of the town of Preston, we thank you for your support. We apologize for any inconvenience our best intentioned efforts to support the FBI have caused you and your Agency."

Nugent said he does not expect the move to return the grant will hurt the town's future efforts to obtain state and federal grants to continue the cleanup.

"I think our actions will not be viewed unfavorably," Nugent said.

The PRA over the years has obtained about $15 million in state and federal grants and loans, including local matching shares.

With that money, the agency has demolished 47 of the 55 structures on the property. The agency is not finished with those applications, Nugent said. The PRA and town officials are writing applications for up to $4 million in new state Department of Economic and Community Development grants due at the end of June.

And Nugent was pleased to receive an invitation from the DECD to "have a conversation" about estimates for what it might cost to completely finish cleaning up the entire 393-acre property.

c.bessette@theday.com

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