Committee looks at saving old State Hospital buildings

Gov. Mark Gordon speaks with Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Wyoming State Hospital facility in Evanston in August 2020. Last month, a legislative committee met with city and county officials to discuss saving some of the buildings on the old WSH campus. (HERALD FILE PHOTO)

A Wyoming joint legislative and executive task force meeting was held on Oct. 18 to discuss and review plans for the Wyoming Department of Health facilities — specifically, the old Wyoming State Hospital campus.

Those attending the meeting included Wyoming Sens. Wendy Schuler, Fred Baldwin and Dan Dockstader; Reps. Danny Eyre, Robert Wharff and Lloyd Larsen, co-chair of the committee; Wyoming Department of Health Interim Associate Director Stefan Johansson; and a contingent of representatives from Evanston including: Community Development Director Rocco O’Neill; grant writer Mieke Madrid; Historic Preservation Commission Chair Jim Davis; Evanston City Councilman Tib Ottley; Bridger Feuz of the local UW Extension office and Kiley Ingersoll of the Wyoming Business Council.

Representatives with Myers Anderson Architects, hired by the City of Evanston to provide an assessment of the old WSH campus buildings, were in attendance to provide the committee with the results of their findings. 

“I have been asking about the fate of the old buildings ever since I was elected,” Schuler said. “Rocco O’Neill and Mieke Madrid were able to obtain grants for the assessment as constituents in Uinta County are very concerned about what will happen to the buildings.”

Larsen asked for the group from Uinta County to introduce themselves and asked if any would like to say a few words.

“This is an important project for the City of Evanston,” O’Neill said. “The state hospital was founded in 1876, and the buildings were designed by a famous Cheyenne architect. The historic value is important as is the location; it is the first site people see when coming into Evanston from the east.”

O’Neill told the committee the city sees the campus as a huge economic opportunity as it is very hard to find a large space with existing buildings on it. He said the preservation of the campus is important for historic purposes as well as for the economic development opportunity.

Architect Jerry Myers was then asked to present his company’s assessment and design plans.  Myers explained that the purpose of the assessment was to preserve and protect the campus; to review and evaluate and to develop a vision and provide a plan for sustainability. He said any property ownership and management of the campus would have to be a cooperative venture with the state. He then outlined the results of their assessment on the buildings.

“Several of the buildings, Fremont and Park, are in bad shape and probably can’t be saved. However, the administration and Sheridan buildings have potential,” Myers said. “The buildings need to be protected from vandalism, condensation issues, and mitigation of water leakage.”

Johansson replied, “The state intends to turn off all utilities, including heat, and board up all the lower windows by [the end of the year]. We intend to sell the boilers and the fuel tanks are scheduled to be removed in the next two weeks.”

Myers continued to explain the assessment and plan for the campus, which included the possibility of Lake Louise becoming a park and recreation site. He said the campus includes 105 acres across Highway 150, the cemetery across Interstate 80, the 117 acres where the buildings are located and 35 acres where the superintendent’s house is located.

Their plan is for the city to market the campus to a life science facility for research and development with some of the other old residential buildings being renovated for senior housing and/or offices. The majority of the investment into the renovation and development of the campus would have to come from private funds.

Architect Dale Hatch and Economic Development Consultant Ernie Bleinberger, both with Myers Anderson, backed up what Myers had said and added their input. They both stressed all of the benefits to saving the campus: the historic value; the rarity for a piece of property to include a lake which makes it more valuable; the value of the visibility of the campus to visitors traveling on the interstate; the direct entry off of Hwy. 150; and the economic boost to the community if a life science industry were to locate there.

Bleinberger said, “I have been working the last several years with the life science industry and I know that they are not site bound. The WSH campus itself leans towards a research and development industry. Student housing would be a demand for use of some of the out buildings. We have spoken to the Evanston Housing Authority who would be interested in some of the units. Having a private owner is your best option.”

O’Neill said local government doesn’t want to take on ownership of the WSH campus and the city’s desire is to provide options for the use of the campus. He suggested the legislative committee work with the University of Wyoming and the Wyoming Business Council on how to attract a life science research and development industry to the campus. O’Neill said his committee had applied for the Build Back Better Wyoming Energy Commission Grant for the campus renovation.

“We would like to work cooperatively with this committee and Myers Anderson to see this campus used in the best way,” O’Neill said.

Johansson asked O’Neill if what the state is planning to do at the end of the year would affect their plans and, if so, they need to meet to align their plans.

Myers responded by stating that stabilization of the buildings is critical; they need to be secured and need ventilation to protect against further mold damage and steps to mitigate the water damage. He suggested that a meeting be held with all parties involved as soon as possible.

Myers summarized his report: there are 14 buildings that can be developed, which will take $55 million, along with site development. In order for the buildings to be ready for a life science industry, it would cost $250 to $400 a square foot. He said the estimate for demolishing the buildings and leveling the site was $4 million, though Larsen argued that it would be more.  Myers added that mitigation for hazardous materials was included in the estimate.

“The bottom line is that we want to work with the state on this property,” Sen. Schuler said. “It behooves us to set aside funds and we need more time to work towards this plan before demolishing. The City of Evanston has been creative and futuristic. They have the success of the Roundhouse and we want to see that happen with this WSH campus. Give us more time to work on securing funding and support.”

Sen. Dockstader and Rep. Eyre agreed, and said how saving the campus would be a great showcase for Uinta County; both said they are ready and willing to help.

Baldwin suggested the committee take this information to the Labor and Health Appropriations Committee and ask for their consideration to allow more time.

Larsen asked the Evanston committee to make specific recommendations to the committee within 60 days. He said they would also need a decision from the Department of Health on the request for maintenance and stabilization of the buildings.

“It would be helpful if the local group would specify which buildings are their priority for that maintenance.” Johansson said. “It will require funding and staff so we need a ranking of buildings.”

Larsen asked Schuler to be in charge of prioritizing the buildings and to provide a list by the end of the month, which Schuler agreed to do.

“We have planted a seed with the governor regarding saving these buildings,” Larsen said. “The committees will have November and December to discuss a solution. We need to postpone the removal of heat in those buildings, which creates a sense of urgency for us to work hard.”

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