Nightmare on Cook Avenue

People who live near the old Meriden-Wallingford hospital used to dream of a second act for the building worthy of the institution that left it behind. They hoped the once grand hospital, with its many rooms, laboratories and long hallways, might find new use as a community college or something, and that it would remain a stabilizing pillar of the neighborhood.

What actually became of the building — its unconscionable decay — is the sad realization of their worst fears, as city officials and Record-Journal reporter Dan Brechlin discovered on a recent tour.

The city finalized purchase of the property last month for the cost of the taxes owed on it. During the tour, inspectors and other officials found the walls covered with graffiti and ceilings ripped out. Debris (including large tires, for some reason) litters the rooms. There’s evidence someone had used planters in the lobby’s atrium as fire pits — a terrifying thought on the first floor of a seven-story building in a dense residential area.

Indeed, the photos look like something out of a horror movie.

How could such a travesty have occurred?

In 1999, the CEO of the newly renamed MidState Medical Center promised she and the board of directors would “stand alongside of our elected officials and other interested parties to collaborate on a solution” to fill the space MidState vacated when it moved to a new facility on Lewis Avenue a year earlier.

That was after an investigation by the newspaper revealed hospital officials had worked with a developer on a plan to convert the building into a drug rehabilitation center. They must have known the use would be unpopular with neighbors and unlikely to win approval from the city.

Having already unloaded the old building, however, there was no longer a financial incentive for MidState to “collaborate on a solution,” and thus a solution was never found. A subsequent developer’s plans also fell through and the building spent years in bankruptcy proceedings before the city acquired it with no definite plan for future use. The Cook Avenue area hasn’t exactly flourished in the intervening years.

Architects of the once controversial decision to build the new hospital on Lewis Avenue have been vindicated by the enormous success of that facility, but MidState neglected a moral responsibility by allowing the Cook Avenue building to deteriorate and become a burden on the city and its residents.

Despite its deplorable condition, city officials are hoping to find a developer willing to take a chance on the building with the advent of commuter rail service through Meriden and the creation of a transit-oriented district downtown. MidState can redeem itself by helping in that process. If the plan doesn’t work out, the hospital should finance demolition of the Cook Avenue building and remediate the site on the city’s behalf.

MidState has expanded four times in the last 16 years and opened two new medical clinics while its former home sat mouldering, bringing the neighborhood down with it. In 2011, MidState generated total revenue of more than $250 million, with profits of nearly $18 million. Total assets that year topped $90 million.

So the hospital obviously has the resources to help. Rather than planning yet another expansion, it’s time MidState fulfilled its moral obligation to clean up the mess it left on Cook Avenue.

Reach Managing Editor/News Eric Cotton at ecotton@record-journal.com or (203) 317-2344. Follow him on Twitter @ecotton3



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