What it was, what it is, and what it will be.
That was the concern of Brooks Memorial Hospital officials and the city of Dunkirk Planning Board about an unused church building on Central Avenue during a board meeting Thursday.
Hospital officials were making a return trip before the board, seeking permission to demolish the structures to make way for additional parking, with a possibility of the hospital constructing a medical building in the future. Another appearance before the board will be necessary as it tabled the BMH demolition request to allow for further study of a preliminary investigation of 501 Central Ave. by Donald Harrington of Harrington Architecture.
OBSERVER file photo
Brooks Memorial Hospital wants to tear down 501 Central Ave.
BMH Chief Operating Officer Jarrod Johnson talked about the hospital's impact in the community before the board got to the report. Johnson said the hospital is the biggest employer in the city, providing a $76 million impact to the Northern Chautauqua area, along with other benefits, including acting as an economic stimulus.
"One of the factors that a lot of businesses look at when they relocate or set up shop in a community is they look at health care and how accessible it is," Johnson explained. "We are for jobs for all skills and salary levels and I think we are a magnet to attract more health care business in the community."
Johnson said the space would be used for parking initially but there were other uses for the space.
"We need to grow programs and services and to bring more physicians to the community and we have to house them," he explained, "we're looking at a medical office building as well, so there's many things that we can look at as we grow programs and services, so keep that in mind."
Johnson cited statistics showing the growth in outpatient services and the need for continued BMH expansion before Harrington gave his report. Harrington said they were asked for a preliminary report and did not do an extensive review but noted the building was in fair structural shape, despite water infiltration from the roof and a lack of mechanical systems such as heating.
"Not a great deal of the interior is what one would consider historic in nature, it has been chopped up" Harrington stated. "The chapel is very nice, the parlor perhaps, before they took out the mantle piece ... was considered historic space but that's pretty much gone too. The house has been modified."
Harrington said the hospital's question was what could be done with the building. He said it would take a "considerable chunk of change" to make it compatible for hospital use or for commercial use and was likely economically unfeasible.
Planning Board Chairman Ed Schober said any hardship was the hospital's own doing. He added part of the church was Civil War era and in the 1920s it was modified to become an English-style church.
"I think that's where the significance is too, it's the last remaining structure of its kind on that whole entire block. For the relatively meager amount of parking spaces that that footprint would allow you to provide, on a prominent corner at Central and Fifth in the city, that would seem to be a pretty significant loss to the community and to the future generations," Schober stated. "I understand the hospital's mission, and no one doubts the benefit of having it. We're all very aware of that, but I don't see a direct correlation either between not being able to demolish the structure and the hospital going onward. Especially that small of a corner we're talking about.
"I don't think it's going to affect jobs."
Johnson said he disagreed.
"Right now the hospital is growing outpatient services. I would say about 66 percent of our revenue is generated and derived through outpatient volume. So as we continue to grow outpatient volume there's an opportunity to increase parking, we need parking at every chance we get," he explained. "The second thing I would advise the group is to look forward. If you look forward three years, five years, as we try to grow the programs and services in the community so people don't have to go to Erie, people don't have to go to Buffalo for health care, we have the opportunity to look at that space as an opportunity to build a new structure for whatever programs and services you want to build. I'd have to disagree because the hospital will need to expand... we're going to need space."
Schober said that space wouldn't be enough and the hospital would have to look beyond the block it is on.
"That church property is not giving you any great potential for expansion," he said.
He added there were some examples of similar buildings in the city being rehabilitated including the former Cardinal Mindszenty High School, the Chadwick Bay Lofts in the former Crocker Sprague building; the Graf Building and the Coburn Block.
"The loss of it is permanent. That's the part that scares me the most, especially being on a corner. ... When you demolish a building on a corner, that is a big loss," he added, "especially in a small urban area."
Schober pointed out owners are required to maintain their buildings.
"No one is saying that now that you own it you have to put $2 million into it to make it something spectacular, but now that you do own it you are the conservator of it," he explained. "You have to at least mothball it so if you have no plans for it, you can market it to somebody that does."
Board member Andy Bohn pointed out that hospital officials knew the board might not come to a decision at the meeting. Johnson agreed that was the case.
Bohn motioned to table the request for further review and it passed unanimously.
"We'll be in contact then," Schober told hospital officials.
Johnson was asked his thought on the delay and how it would affect hospital plans.
"It was a decision they made and we've got to live with it, so it is what it is," he replied. "I think it won't affect our plans at all. I think we still need a plan and plan to go forward and still keep our vision and hopefully come back with a good result next month.
"I think any attempt to try to use those buildings would require a lot of capital investment by the hospital in something that I don't think we're in a position to do right now. ... We've signed a letter of intent to affiliate with (University of pittsburgh Medical Center) and so our planning efforts will continue to go forward. But as of right now, we don't have any plans to use the existing architecture."
Johnson would not comment on any plans the hospital might have to seek relief from a court if the Planning Board declines to allow demolition at 501 Central Ave.
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