Westmoreland County, Jeannette want to own Monsour

Medical center's sale set for Sept.

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Westmoreland County and Jeannette officials are trying to get ownership of the dilapidated Monsour Medical Center, which was damaged by fire in May.

In the meantime, the landmark cylindrical hospital building and adjacent brick house, located along a busy stretch of Route 30 in Jeannette, is set to go up for tax sale in September. Taxes owed on the property exceed $800,000.

"The county and city are looking at multiple options about obtaining the structures to put the property back into productive use," said Jason Regone, county planning director and CEO of the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp.

Mr. Regone said the hospital is owned by the nonprofit Monsour Foundation, but the boards of Monsour Medical Center and the foundation have dissolved, with some board members saying they resigned long ago. Others are deceased.

The hospital was abandoned and shuttered in 2006 with the site rapidly deteriorating in recent years. Concerns escalated when officials discovered former patients' medical information and biowaste -- including syringes and blood and tissue samples -- still inside.

The Department of Environmental Protection estimates it has spent about $20,000 removing the biowaste. In the meantime, it's yet undecided what to do with the patients' medical records.

Since its closure, there have been about a dozen arsons at the site. But the most recent fire has prompted officials to try harder to secure the site because it now poses risk to those who enter the building and those traveling past it.

"The building is a dilapidated mess. I highly advise and recommend to anyone wanting to go in, stay out," Mr. Regone said. "It's not a safe structure."

While a structural engineer has not yet examined the site, Mr. Regone said there are fears that water on the roof or hanging sheet metal could pose dangers to those passing the building.

Jeannette city solicitor Scott Avolio said that while the last fire may have sparked more interest in the site, the city has been putting forth efforts since 2010 when it petitioned the county to revoke the property's tax-exempt status.

"We wanted to get the property back on the tax rolls," he said. "We contended that it lost its charitable purpose when it stopped being a hospital."

Mr. Avolio said the city "has always beaten the drum" to do something about the building. And while the former hospital is in Jeannette, Mr. Avolio said, "It's more of a central Westmoreland County problem" as it sits along one of the major roads leading into the county.

Several obstacles stand in the way of the county and city gaining ownership of the building. Mr. Regone said there are existing liens of more than $30 million, including $4.5 million to the Internal Revenue Service and $2.7 million to the Federal Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp.

Mr. Regone also said funding must be found not only to cover the cost of purchasing the site but to cover the costs associated with "the actual cost of environmental remediation." He pointed out that asbestos inside the building will first have to be removed before the structures that sit on a 6- to 8-acre plot could be razed and the property prepared for future development.

"The money has not yet been secured, but we're in the process of identifying financial sources," he stated. "We believe, however, that we have a plan."

But, such a plan will take time, admitted Mr. Regone,. With luck, the house on the property could be torn down by the end of the year, but the hospital building won't be addressed until well into 2014, he said.

neigh_east - neigh_westmoreland

Linda Metz, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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