Delay the demolition

Let me pose a few questions.

• Why would the state of Wyoming want to spend millions of dollars to tear down solid brick buildings when investors are interested in refurbishing them?

• Where does the money trail lead?

• Does the Wyoming Department of Health have an alternative plan for that property when the buildings are gone?

• Why has the state allowed in the buildings or equipment to be vandalized?

• What will happen to the barren land after the buildings are removed?

• A big question for the county is: How much of the county landfill will be filled up with all of that historic debris, shortening the life of the landfill for future generations?

These are questions members of the Evanston Historic Preservation Commission and many local residents who are working to save the historic Wyoming State Hospital (WSH) buildings are asking. In December of 2021, Myers Anderson Architects completed a building assessment and feasibility study for repurposing the historic buildings. The study was paid for by the city of Evanston and Uinta County.

Myers Anderson’s summary states, “The historic area of the Wyoming State Hospital campus is an important site comprised of approximately 24 acres currently owned by the state of Wyoming. This nationally recognized site, on the National Register of Historic Places, consists of 14 remaining contributing buildings, two non-contributing buildings, and contributing object (the cobble rock at the original main entrance to the hospital). This campus presents great opportunity for repurposing the buildings and campus to continue its social and economic benefit to the community and the state. While the buildings and campus no longer serve the needs of WHS, they are strong candidates for successful rehabilitation as has been accomplished on numerous similar projects locally, and across the country. It is acknowledged that the redevelopment will require significant cooperation on the state and local levels for success.”

“First and foremost,” the study continues, “the governing entities must address the exiting conditions of the campus and real threat to the buildings and site if this portion of the campus and buildings are vacated without a plan for continued maintenance of the site and proper mothballing of the buildings.”

Myers Anderson projected it would cost $54 million to restore the buildings, and the state wants to spend a projected $53 million to destroy them. Why is there even a question as to saving them?

These historic buildings are the fourth-oldest significant structures in the state, are listed on the National Historic Register of Historic Places and are the same age as the Old Main building at the University of Wyoming campus.

Recently, Joe Westerman with JMW Properties, a multi-family housing developer and rehabilitator of historic buildings, became interested in refurbishing the historic buildings. There is a desperate need in Evanston for affordable family housing and senior housing.

Westerman has also expressed the possibility of a culinary arts or technical school to be placed in some of the buildings. JMW Properties is just one developer that has shown interest but, if the buildings were listed for bid, other developers might come forward with proposals.

The possibilities for the historic campus are endless. A museum for the artifacts and history of the Wyoming State Hospital could be placed in one of the buildings and become a tourist attraction; the kitchen facility, with all of its modern equipment, could become a culinary art school; a technical school is a possibility; and much needed housing. There is even room for commercial sites and a park near Lake Louise on the property.

Rep. Jon Conrad has secured letters of support from the Evanston City Council and the Uinta County Economic Development Commission, asking the Wyoming State Buildings Commission to delay the demolition until July 2025 — they’re currently set to be razed in July 2024 — to give developers time to access the buildings and potentially submit proposals.

A rally was held recently at the site of the historic WSH buildings, and it was covered by FOX 13 Utah on TV. The support of the community for saving the WSH buildings is growing, and anyone interested in adding their name to a petition to save the WSH can go to the Facebook page “Save the old WSH.”

Let your voice be heard; ask the state to “delay the demolition.”