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160-year-old Weston Hospital must be preserved

Bob'N'Along by Bob Stealey

EDITOR

My friend Joy Gilchrist Stalnaker, chairperson/executive director of the Weston Hospital Revitalization Committee, seeks good things ahead for the old Weston Hospital, vacated in 1994 when patients moved to the new facility -- the William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital.

Numerous efforts have since been made to locate a developer to successfully turn the more than 140-year-old building into an economic advantage for Weston and Lewis County. So far, these have fallen short.

Joy told me there are four main things that greatly concern her and the committee about the edifice: (1) weather, elements; (2) unscrupulous would-be developers; (3) vandalism, a la the now-famous paintball games, and (4) the great need for sufficient funding to preserve and develop the largest hand-cut stone building in North America. I'll touch briefly on No. 4.

In a letter to Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, she recounted the historical and architectural aspects of the facility. Then she made the following statement:

"As time has passed and nothing significant has happened to this historic structure, some citizens have openly espoused the cause of reducing the building to a pile of rubble and converting the grounds to an industrial park. In light of the relative small amount of flat land adaptable for industrial development and the high cost of adaptive reuse of the historic building, this idea has enough proponents to threaten the building.

"Consequently, while no one is currently seriously opposing the building's preservation, there are those, including some in positions of authority, who consider the building a hindrance to successful development. ...

"The building is unique for its sheer size and workmanship and the entities working for its preservation have believed and continue to fully believe that a successful reuse will add significantly to the economic development of the area. This pleasing-to-the-eye stone giant is a significant part of West Virginia's heritage. ... "

She concluded, "Listing on this prestigious list can help the Weston Hospital by the sheer publicity accorded those buildings placed there. One barrier to the building is the large amount of dollars required to advertise its existence to possible interested parties. Another impediment of successful reuse to this significantly endangered site is the vast amount of money required to retrofit it for reuse (estimated to be $85 million), whether by public or private parties; perhaps the Trust can direct the major players in funding sources and help them to make those connections. ... " In my own humble opinion, it would be a travesty for the plight of the old building to be anything other than a permanent fixture.

'Know of a trustworthy developer who might have creative ideas for keeping the building standing? The website of the revitalization committee is: http://hackerscreek.com/whrc/Endangered_site.htm.

Have a great weekend!

Exponent-Telegram Editor Bob Stealey can be reached by phone at (304) 626-1438, or by e-mail at rstealey@exponent-telegram.com.

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