Haywood County officials foresee the historic hospital in Waynesville one day being transformed into affordable or senior housing.
“That would be my vision,” said Commissioner Bill Upton. “Something might show up that we haven’t thought of, but affordable housing is definitely needed.”
The mammoth brick building occupies an entire block, with 125 rooms and 50,000 square feet of outside space. The Department of Social Services is moving out next fall, and the county is seeking proposals on what to do with the building once vacated.
Developers have until late October to propose a new use for the hospital, but housing of some sort appears to be the commissioners’ preference.
“I felt that would be the highest and best use for that structure,” Commissioner Kevin Ensley said. According to Ensley, at least one developer has already looked at converting the building into affordable housing.
“I wouldn’t have any objection,” said Commissioner Skeeter Curtis. “We always need some housing.”
The Department of Social Services will relocate in fall 2011 to the site of the former Wal-Mart store in Clyde. Commissioners decided it’d be more cost-effective to buy and renovate the deserted superstore rather than fix up the crumbling hospital.
The old hospital was originally built in 1927 and expanded in the 1950s. County officials have said it would cost roughly $6.1 million to renovate it.
Commissioners have complained that the building will need a host of major renovations including a new roof, new windows and rewiring to accommodate the latest technology.
As the first county-owned hospital in North Carolina, however, the building may be eligible to be included in the National Registry of Historic Places, which comes with tax credits for renovations.
“I think the historic tax credits are what really makes it attractive for developers,” said Ensley.
A time of great need
Mountain Projects, a community action agency in Haywood and Jackson counties, may be on the ground assisting any developer that steps in.
“If they choose to do affordable housing, at that point, we’ll get involved,” said Patsy Dowling, director of Mountain Projects.
The agency can guide developers through the highly competitive process of receiving low-income housing tax credits from the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency.
Earlier this year, Mountain Projects helped launch Smokey Meadows, an affordable apartment complex in Canton. It filled up in record time.
Dowling is well-aware of the struggles that the working class faces in tracking down affordable housing, especially in recent times. She has seen the waiting list for affordable housing assistance backlogged for as long as three years.
“Our waiting list got so long we had to close it and stop taking applications,” said Dowling. “It’s back open, but the wait is tremendous …hundreds and hundreds of people in Haywood County are on the waiting list.”
Mountain Projects is helpless to help even those who walk in with their suitcases with nowhere to go.
While neighbors may be wary about living near low-income housing, Dowling said a comprehensive background check is done and clients must sign a strict 17-page lease.
“In these apartments, it’s not just anybody,” said Dowling.
Ensley agreed that bringing affordable housing to the area would only bring benefits.
“I don’t think that low-income or moderate-income housing is a negative at all,” said Ensley.
Another bonus is that the building would be put back on the tax rolls, Ensley and Dowling said. Affordable housing complexes not only pay taxes, but also create jobs.
If a developer takes on the task of renovating the old hospital, the central office for Haywood County Schools, which occupies one small section of the building, would likely be uprooted.
As commissioners await proposals, Curtis said the last thing he wants to see is the hospital destroyed.
“It’d be nice if we could save what we could of it,” Curtis said.
“A lot of our people were born there,” said Upton, who worked in the 1927 building while serving as school superintendent.