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County takes lead on Monsour demolition

| Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Westmoreland County has stepped up to take the lead in destroying mounds of confidential records strewn throughout the ramshackle former Monsour Medical Center, officials said on Thursday.

The agreement comes after years of attempts to deal with the crumbling complex, all hindered by uncertainty about who actually owns the Jeannette facility and what to do with records abandoned when the hospital closed in 2006 as a result of a series of failed state inspections.

Those barriers came down when officials learned the Route 30 facility is owned by a now-defunct corporation, Monsour Medical Center Inc., which lists no individual owners.

Jeannette city attorney Scott Avolio said county officials have agreed to destroy the records, which by law should have been secured by hospital officials when the facility was shuttered.

To expedite the work, Avolio will ask a county judge to declare the files no longer are medical records and therefore don't have to be returned to former patients as state law requires. He said the records are more than 15 years old, making it difficult to track down those patients.

Avolio said the agreement between the county and city calls for Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp. to spend $35,000 to construct a fence around the property and place barricades blocking entrances and exits at the site, which has been repeatedly targeted by arsonists, vandals and squatters.

Jason Rigone, executive director of the industrial development corporation, said it is time the county takes action.

“This is a first, bold step,” he said.

Rigone said his agency will pay $40,000 to raze a dilapidated stone house at the site — home to the original Monsour medical clinic founded in 1952 — and an adjacent greenhouse. The house, with a cornerstone indicating it was built in 1783, was heavily damaged in an April fire.

State and county officials have long voiced concerns that the Monsour property poses a serious threat to public safety.

“We have to board the place up so no one gets hurt,” county Commissioner Charles Anderson said.

The $75,000 needed for the work is a “small price to pay when you think what could happen over there,” said state Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, who has been working with local and county officials on the project.

“This shows you what happens when different levels of government work with each other instead of against each other. That place is a monstrosity. That should be its new name, the Monsour Monstrosity,” Ward said.

After securing the building, officials from the industrial development corporation would like to acquire the property at a free-and-clear tax sale early next year and then demolish it. Because of asbestos at the site, the cost of demolition is set at $1 million.

Before any of that can happen, a judge must issue a ruling that the property can be sold. The county Tax Claims Bureau filed a petition this week asking for that ruling, attorney Tim Andrews said.

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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