Excela Health officials: Former Jeannette District Memorial Hospital could be razed

| Monday, Nov. 12, 2012, 11:58 p.m.

In an effort to ensure that Jeannette is not saddled with two dilapidated hospitals, Excela Health officials said on Monday that they will either sell the former Jeannette District Memorial Hospital or demolish it.

“We've aggressively tried to market the hospital,” said Jennifer Miele, Excela's vice president of communications.

If a sale is not possible, “we have a commitment we made to Jeannette that we will not be part of the blight problem,” Miele added.

Today the building ­— opened in 1959 by the Sisters of Charity — is used for storage, Miele said.

In recent months, Jeannette officials have struggled with the abandoned and badly decaying Monsour Medical Center, which was shuttered in 2006 after it failed a number of state inspections.

Officials have condemned the rundown building but don't have the $250,000 to $1 million to tear it down.

Excela bought Jeannette District Memorial Hospital for $14 million in 2007 from Pittsburgh Mercy Health System.

The Pittsburgh Mercy Health System, part of Catholic Health East, is one of the region's largest health and human services nonprofit organizations serving more than 26,000 people each year. Pittsburgh Mercy Health System sold Mercy Jeannette Hospital to Excela Health in 2007, the same year the health system sold Mercy Hospital of Pittsburgh to UPMC.

Miele said Excela officials would like to see an investor purchase the Jeannette building for use as an assisted-living or rehabilitation facility.

But Jeannette city Attorney Scott Avolio said it's more likely the building will have to be razed.

“The city would be happy if the building is razed. There's a potential buyer on the scene, but if it doesn't come to fruition by next spring, they're going to raze it,” Avolio said. “We're pretty excited if they shoulder the expense of tearing it down. It will make it more attractive for development.”

Excela is willing to lease the property to a developer for $1 if a company would renovate the facility. But the size of the facility and the cost of renovating it may be a drawback.

Miele said the cost of retrofitting the structure is estimated at $10 million, compared with $3 million to raze it.

Four television and movie production companies, including Fox Television, have toured the site in the past six months as a possible location for a movie or television pilot, but nothing has materialized.

Donna McCullough worked for 44 years at Jeannette District Memorial Hospital and has been part of a group of residents trying to find another use for the facility.

“We did try to get assisted-living facility here,” she said. “This is an aged population. We think assisted living would be perfect. Our biggest purpose was we didn't want the building to go idle.”

Avolio said if the building is demolished, the most likely use for the property would be an assisted-living center similar to Redstone Highlands or Bethlen Home in Ligonier, but on a smaller scale.

The city, the Jeannette School District and Westmoreland County are appealing a decision by the county's Board of Assessment Appeals that sharply reduced the amount of taxes Excela has to pay on the property.

The hospital's assessment was slashed from $2.6 million to $52,840. The assessed value of an adjacent parking garage was reduced from $675,710 to $11,290. Another parking area had its assessed value cut from $39, 960 to $9,640, according to county tax records.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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