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Lawmaker pushing Monsour cleanup

| Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

State Sen. Kim Ward plans to introduce legislation next month that would hold the owners of dilapidated properties, such as the former Monsour Medical Center in Jeannette, responsible for their cleanup or demolition.

The Hempfield Republican will meet next week in Harrisburg with officials from the departments of community and economic development, health, and environmental protection, along with state Rep. George Dunbar, R-Penn Township, and leaders from Westmoreland County and Jeannette to discuss what to do with the former medical center on Route 30, which has steadily deteriorated since it closed in 2006.

“We have to jump through hoops to make (the owners) do what they're supposed to do,” Ward said.

Dunbar said current blighted property law deals only with buildings in residential areas. No state law addresses commercial property, such as Monsour or the former Jeannette Glass factory, he said.

“I've been pushing — seems like forever — just to get something done without spending a ton of taxpayers dollars. Hopefully, we'll see some results from the meeting,” Dunbar said.

“The city is happy to have the opportunity to provide information gathered over the last couple of years,” said city attorney Scott Avolio, who will attend the meeting.

The Monsour property is scheduled to be sold in fall at a sheriff's sale, but county officials don't expect anyone to bid on it because of millions of dollars in state and federal tax liens, in addition to the more than $800,000 owed to Westmoreland County and the city, according to tax records.

A potential buyer would take on the estimated $1 million cost of demolishing the building.

If the property is not sold, it will be put up for judicial sale.

Officials from the Department of Community and Economic Development toured the seven-story building several months ago and were appalled by the amount of asbestos, mold, water damage and debris, Ward said.

City officials have spent months trying to determine who actually owns the property. It was owned by the Monsour Medical Foundation, but board members have died or had resigned long before the hospital closed.

Avolio said he is negotiating with Monsour family members to acquire the property through a family entity, Westmoreland Priority LLC, which holds $35 million in debt. In the late 1980s, the hospital borrowed $19 million so the hospital could emerge from bankruptcy. Dr. Howard Monsour purchased the debt, which has been accumulating interest since then.

Avolio said he and Monsour lawyers are negotiating the wording of an agreement. The Monsours want Jeannette to exonerate them of any current and future liability, which Avolio said he will not do.

Jeannette and county officials are concerned about the structural integrity of the building, deemed unsafe by a city engineer who inspected it.

Furniture and office equipment remains throughout the interior, some blocking stairwells. Blood by-products, syringes and tissue samples are strewn about. Vandals have removed copper pipes, electrical wiring, windows and doors. Exterior siding has fallen onto the sidewalk.

Earlier this year, a fire destroyed a stone building that served as the original six-bed clinic established by Dr. Howard Monsour in the 1950s. The main tower-like building has been set on fire at least twice.

Howard Monsour, 92, is the last of the four Monsour brothers who were associated with the hospital since it opened. Brothers Roy, William and Robert are deceased.

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

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