D190227 hartselle hospital

Signs of deterioration at the former Hartselle Hospital are visible Tuesday. [JERONIMO NISA/DECATUR DAILY]

HARTSELLE — Before a vacant hospital in the middle of Hartselle becomes an eyesore, city officials are trying to acquire state or federal grants to raze the building and redevelop the property.

In its place, preliminary talks are to construct an advanced learning center for students in Morgan County, said Hartselle Mayor Randy Garrison.

On March 7 at 5 p.m. in City Hall, the city will have the first of what may be a series of “visionary meetings” about what should go on the 5-acre site if outside money is secured to tear down the hospital.

Huntsville Hospital has offered to donate the facility to the city and is still willing to do so, said Nat Richardson, president of Decatur Morgan Hospital.

The hospital has been closed since January 2012 and Huntsville Hospital Systems owns the property. Garrison estimates it will cost about $500,000 to raze the building, primarily because the facility has asbestos that needs to be removed.

Earlier this month, the mayor said city leaders met with a representative from the Alabama Department of Environment Management to discuss ADEM’s Brownfield Redevelopment Program.

Garrison said the program helps municipalities, communities and developers clean up and reclaim real estate thought to be contaminated.

“We know the hospital site has asbestos, and this is something that has to be dealt with,” the mayor said. “We want to redevelop the property, but we want to hear from the citizens of Hartselle on March 7 about what they would like to see there.”

Superintendents Dee Dee Jones of Hartselle City Schools and Bill Hopkins Jr. of Morgan County Schools toured the facility about two years ago and support putting a learning center on the property.

Both said the existing building is not suitable for a learning center and has to be torn down first.

“The property is right in the center of Hartselle and easily accessible to other people in the county,” Jones said.

About three months before Japanese automakers Toyota and Mazda announced plans in January 2018 to construct a $1.6 billion joint-venture manufacturing facility in Greenbrier, Hopkins, during his state of Morgan County schools address, outlined the need for a regional training center to prepare students for careers.

“The need is now urgent,” he said. “We have to get students ready for those jobs.”

While outlining the need, Hopkins held a copy of a 2003 study the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce conducted that recommended building a regional training facility.

Whether a training center goes on the property or not, Garrison said something has to be done because the building is deteriorating and there are signs of vandalism.

“The building is beyond ever being reopened as a hospital,” he said. “Huntsville Hospital has been very cooperative with the city, but we don’t want this to become an eyesore.”

- deangelo@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2469. Twitter @DD_Deangelo.

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