Cumberland Times-News

Opinion

August 19, 2013

It took some prodding to get facts about Memorial

Mayor Grim’s commentary in the Aug. 16 edition of the Times-News (“Here are the facts about Memorial Hospital”) provided needed information. At times, unearthing “facts” takes some prodding.

Because those actions that took place in this neighborhood — the loss of the school, hospital, ballfields and playgrounds — were caused by developers, I admit the mistake of thinking this demolition was also. The lack of transparency and conflicting information may have contributed to this conclusion.

For example: the public was told the Medical Building would not be torn down. Word came out, however, when people were given notice to move by August that it would be torn down. That was mentioned in my letter (“They could care less about us”) published July 26. On July 27, the Times-News carried the headline “Memorial Medical Building will also be demolished.” Yes, sometimes it takes a little prodding.

Does the hospital have to be demolished? Probably, with the state it is in now. The 2007 study warned the city to “maintain the building’s function, appearance, and use.” That was never done. Grim says that study “ignore(s) the history of the building then and now.”

Let’s look at that history. Following the first announcement of the hospital’s demolition, I had conversations with a councilman who was aware of our concerns and attempted to alleviate them. When questioned about the demolition, he said WMHS had ravaged the hospital, making rehabilitation impossible. Why not a lawsuit? He said that could not happen because a previous administration signed off on accepting it.

That prompted other questions. Why would the city accept the hospital in such a deplorable condition, and why would they agree to the restrictions limiting a potential buyer/developer? WMHS left Memorial in 2009, so you were a part of that administration, weren’t you, Mr.  Grim? Obviously, that action was the beginning of the end.

The most important aspect of this is the impact demolition will have on residents. An environmental plan must be released before a single brick is removed. It must cover all aspects of the demolition, with ample notice of when and what will take place and how residents’ health and property will be protected. Will the “demolition contract” provide this information?

The entire removal will take a long time — probably over a year — and it won’t be pretty. In addition to the dust and dirt pervading the neighborhood, consider the traffic and congestion that will take place: heavy equipment maneuvering for position in that horseshoe-shaped area, two schools in session with their attendant activities, the stadium in full use, school buses running their daily routes, and the Johnson Heights Medical Building, with staff and patients vying for parking space. Simply getting in or out of one’s home could be a problem.

Grim mentions “open forums.” He laments the fact that nobody showed up at council meetings when demolition and funding were on the agenda. A true forum involves discussion. Had you truly wanted such a forum, you would have called one that specifically addressed residents’ concerns and met with them at a convenient location — such as Fort Hill Auditorium. Neighborhood residents would have been there en masse. Besides being such a simple solution, it would have been an act of common courtesy.

Regarding the mayor’s closing remarks, “Hiding behind a pen”? What a concept! Using a pen — that is, actually writing — requires analysis and thought. Try it occasionally.

As to your availability: I have called you on the phone. One such time took place when you were running for mayor, and a rather serious problem came up in your campaign. You and I sat at my dining room table discussing that problem. Remember? Yes, we both know, Mr. Grim, I do have your number.

Frank Bruni’s apt line for all this: “It’s the story of superficiality trumping substance, of fame rather than accomplishment, being the aim of many people in politics these days.”

Amen, Mr. Bruni.

Colleen Burke

Cumberland

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