Following a public hearing Monday evening that lasted nearly three hours, Salina City Commissioners postponed a decision to allow the demolition of the facility that used to house St. John’s Hospital.
The decision, at least temporarily, keeps the now vacant facility from being destroyed. Commissioners unanimously delayed the decision for 90 days, until April 14th, to gather more information.
The hearing was brought about by Salinan Jim Ravenkamp, who previously had filed a protest against a decision by the Salina Heritage Commission allowing the demolition of the buildings that once housed St. John’s Hospital.
Back on December 4th, Salina’s Heritage Commission approved plans to demolish the St. John’s buildings, saying restoring them would be too costly.
Salina Regional Health Center owns the buildings on the St. John’s campus, which has been vacant since 2010.
Jack Hinnenkamp, of Salina Regional Health Center, said it would cost between $1 million and $2 million to demolish the seven-building campus. He said redeveloping the buildings would cost much more. The buildings have fallen into disrepair, with among other things a leaky roof that has caused ceiling and mold problems.
During the meeting, Ravenkamp questioned whether the hospital willfully neglected the property, letting it deterioriate to the point where it became more feasible to raze it than to fix it.
Ravenkamp says that he believes there are ways that the facility can be used. He says a committee should be formed to explore possible uses of the facility. He believes that Salina has already destroyed too many old historical buildings, and says that he doesn’t want the same fate for this nearly 100 year old facility.
Several other people also spoke.
Donnie Mars, a former city commissioner, urged the commission to not allow the hospital facility to be destroyed. Mars and his family took over the historic former Salina Marymount College administration building, which was also in disrepair. They were able to preserve it.
Larry Pankratz of Salina, the former director of the Salina Housing Authority, spoke out in support of allowing the hospital to be destroyed. Pankratz said that at one point he had looked into the possibility of using the facility but found it to not be feasible.
Larry Britegam, speaking from the standpoint of a hospital board member, said that though he hates to do it, he supports destroying the building because economically it just can’t be supported.
St. John’s was started in 1914 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia and operated by the Wichita-based Sisters of St. Joseph until 1995.