Area architect, Mark Richard, talked about the old Fort Bayard hospital and why he believes it would be wrong to demolish it.
"Supposedly, it would cost $35 million to renovate the old hospital at Fort Bayard," Richard said. "Guess how much the new one cost to build? Yep, $35 million."
He said it doesn't make sense to knock the building down. He described the construction as concrete post and beam, with the same type of construction as the Murray Hotel in downtown Silver City, although the latter was built years later. "The building was well-conceived with separate wings and a dining room/kitchen in between the wings." According to Richard, it would be easy to remove interior walls and change the configuration of rooms.
The old Fort Bayard Medical Center hospital was constructed in 1922, as the largest tuberculosis treatment center in the world. The kitchen space has a large space above it for cooling. "The old hospital is still the best built building on the campus. It has about 160,000 square feet by my calculation."
The hospital was occupied up to more than two years ago, and has all the utilities to it, including electricity, natural gas, water from the springs on the campus, and heating.
"The roof is in good shape and doesn't leak," Richard said. "Asbestos is not an issue, because it has been abated. There may still be some encapsulated asbestos in service areas for piping in the basement, but none in the inhabited areas."
He said that until it was emptied and abandoned to move everyone to the new hospital just off the campus, Property Control had continued to maintain the facility and had done many improvements.
To a question about the state alleging the costs to maintain the old hospital are $500,000 to more than $600,000 a year, Richard said: "It just makes no sense. The electricity is not on, the heating is not operating, and no one is using the water. That figure was perhaps accurate when the building was being used, but now there is no demand for water, power or gas."
He said he toured the building about four months ago with people who were interested in using it for a military academy for 3,000 students, but "nothing came of it. That was one thing it could have been used for. There are lots of other potential adaptive uses for it, such as a state facility with offices throughout the building, with a consolidated reception area, consolidated bathrooms, and efficient use of the building."
"Why would you tear down a perfectly good building?" Richard asked. "Some say: 'Tear it down and they will come.' My question is: Who is coming?"
He suggested the facility could use some of the funding from the proposed gross receipts bond issue that county voters will decide on later this summer.
"There are three wings," Richard said. "Each could be run independently. Take the dining room, which is about 10,000 square feet, if you include the kitchen. It could be turned into a movie theater or two, with one concession stand. Then there's the historic theater alongside the hospital.
"Why spend more than $4.3 million to blow it up," Richard continued. "If you really want to get rid of a perfectly good building, get Hollywood to blow it up for a movie. It would cost taxpayers nothing. "
He went into the history of the facility. When it was built in 1922, it served veterans who had fought in the Civil War, the Indian wars, the Spanish-American War and World War I. These veterans were being treated for tuberculosis. The facility continued to care for veterans of World War II, the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War.
"The bottom line is: why tear it down. It doesn't cost anything when it's not being used," Richard said. "Some say it's not historic. I beg to differ. Some say it is an eyesore. It's almost 100 years old. Over the life of the building, it has received continuous upgrades."
He alleged the whole situation at Fort Bayard began to unravel when Wackenhut gave a large donation to the gubernatorial campaign of Bill Richardson. The company, which built and served prisons, wanted to do a pilot project in healthcare, and devised the company GeoCare, which was going to build a new hospital with no taxpayer money, but then the company backed out. "The company never did an architectural analysis of possible renovations of the old hospital. They just destroyed the entire Fort Bayard community."
He brought up the taxpayer-funded biomass system, which was installed in the old boiler plant and was destined to heat all the buildings on the campus. "They fired it up once to test it, but it was never used. It's still there, all new."
He said the Nurses' Quarters is a beautiful Greek Revival style building with gorgeous inside fixtures that would cost a lot to replace. "It was just left open to be vandalized."
Richard said the tile roofs on the houses were made by Ludovici Celadon in Ohio. "To replace the roof would be about $1,500 for about 100 square feet. That is not including finials and roof caps. The original roof is still on the Nurses' Quarters."
"The site has a lot of history and a lot of value," he said. "To turn your back on it and say it's not worth anything, it just doesn't make sense. It would be better to spend the $4 million rehabilitating the other buildings. The hospital could be headquarters for a big company. It is a natural for offices. The site has been a TB sanitarium since the Spanish-American War. According to newspapers of the time, Fort Bayard had the best recovery rate for tuberculosis patients of anywhere in the world. It likely had the first elevators in Grant County. At the time, it was called the Whitledge Infirmary, and at one time had 30 medical officers and 650 total personnel."
The Silver City Enterprise and the Silver City Independent had many stories about Fort Bayard, so its history is extensive.
"I just don't get why they want to tear it down," Richard concluded. "If it wasn't so sad, it would be funny."