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Spooky Ohio hospital poses hazard as Halloween nears

| Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013, 5:36 p.m.

CANTON, Ohio — A shuttered and crumbling former hospital has become a hazard as teenagers, vandals and ghost-hunters break into the asbestos-laden building, a problem exacerbated annually by Halloween.

The Molly Stark Hospital near Canton was shuttered in 1995 after about 66 years of operations, ranging from a tuberculosis sanitarium in the 1930s and later to a hospital for the mentally ill.

The once-grand building is now a shambles, with an airborne asbestos problem that's so bad, specialists with the Environmental Protection Agency say no one should go inside without a respirator.

But every week, officials say maintenance workers have to return to the building three or four times to replace wooden panels covering broken windows, according to the Canton Repository.

The primary culprits are teenagers but include people looking for scrap metal and ghost hunters who've heard that Molly Stark is haunted.

“The worst possible thing is someone, maybe even some high school kid, gets in there and falls and gets injured or even dies,” said Robert Fonte, director of Stark County Parks, which owns the property. “It's a safety issue.”

Earlier this month, a park ranger caught a group of teens with backpacks filled with tools, respirators and an extension ladder.

“Teenagers don't care about that asbestos,” Chief Park Ranger Dan George said. “They just want to get inside that building.”

George said he has seen young people scale the second- and third-floor balconies on the front of the building, balconies that overlook asphalt. He's also run into groups of people wearing identical T-shirts with the names of paranormal organizations.

Break-ins have gone up this month with Halloween nearing, George said, adding that the hospital “is really high up on the list of places that ghost-hunters want to get into.”

The parks department has struggled with what to do about Molly Stark since it was deeded to the agency by county commissioners for $1 in 2009. One estimate put simply bringing the building up to code at a price tag of $10 million. The department sought to have the building demolished, also a costly undertaking because the asbestos would have to be painstakingly removed first; a state grant application for the work was denied but the department is planning to reapply next year.

“Government money is very difficult to get,” Fonte said. “We would like to preserve it, but for what purpose?”

Greg Feketik, senior founder of Tri-C Ghost Hunters, which has teams of paranormal investigators in Cleveland, Columbus and Canton, said he'd like to determine whether the hospital could be renovated into a tourism site, such as the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, where he volunteers for ghost hunts.

“Molly is intriguing because of its history, the architecture, the size and because there've been a number of deaths there. When you add all that stuff together, it just screams ‘ghosts,' ” Feketik said. “It would make a ton of money.”

That's what happened to the Mansfield Reformatory, which was set to be torn down before it was saved for ghost-hunting tours charging $70 a person. The site, about halfway between Cleveland and Columbus, has been used for several music videos, movies and TV shows, including the Travel Channel's “Ghost Adventures.”

“Too bad that doesn't happen with Molly Stark,” Feketik said. “It'd be a shame for them to tear it down.”

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