OPINION

Christenson: Baylor hospital and the rest of the story

PAUL CHRISTENSON

t’s time to follow-up with everyone concerning my opinion piece from January 2020 about Baylor’s “gift” of the old hospital to us, the citizens of Waxahachie.  I have done a lot of research on the land grant, including the exact acreage that was conveyed, and who would be responsible for the major asbestos removal.

Paul Christenson

I ask why should the citizens of Waxahachie own and maintain a 120,000 square foot dilapidated hospital, parking lots and an old run down clinic building consuming a 9 acre site rife with asbestos that has been vacant for a number of years and that no one wants to buy?  Most of the time the old adage “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” holds true.  But when a gift seems too good to be true, someone needs to look at it.  But our City Council never did.  Inexplicably, the property has nothing to do with City Services.   And per the Communications Director down at City Hall, we own it without any assessment of alternative use or value.

Mayor Hill claimed in a fairly recent post on Nextdoor that, “The land and office building are on the appraisal district for a couple million. The hospital is appraised at over six million.  Whether you repurpose the hospital or have a developer tear it down and redevelop the area is still yet to be decided.”

In my view, the absence of any thorough assessment and determination of expected costs and benefits in accepting this land and all of its asbestos is an important reason why we find ourselves owning and maintaining an old hospital, a run-down clinic building, and surrounding parking lots.   The environmental costs of demolishing an asbestos riddled building can’t be known until demo is underway.  If the estimates are off, even higher costs will fall on you. 

The appraised values are cited to justify the debacle.  But the appraised values are old, and reflect the value of the hospital as a going concern chocked full of medical equipment.  Once the hospital closed down, the value of the hospital and adjacent properties dropped significantly.   The adjacent properties had value back in the day when businesses, physician practices, and others wanted to be close to hospital that they served.  But this hasn’t been the case for quite some time.

Finally, our City Manager has recognized the costs of demolishing the old asbestos-filled hospital and has budgeted $1.4 million to tear the hospital down and have it hauled off.  This looming expenditure I predicted over a year ago.  And this cost does not reflect that many of the adjacent properties were used for parking lots for staff, patients and visitors of the old hospital.  It will cost more money to remove the old parking lots to make the properties appealing to developers.   The old hospital and adjacent properties represent another cost to us.  We have been paying for the operating costs of the properties, including lawn care, electricity, and other costs for over a year now.  

And the value of the land after the building are demolished is anyone’s guess.   We were informed that the “gift” involved 8.873 acres.  If I take the demolition costs without additional asbestos abatement of the old hospital of $1.4 million and divide by 8.873 acres per the appraisal district this comes to $157,000 an acre cost to us.  When I search for comparable vacant land in the area I see valuations of from say $25,000 to $45,000 an acre.  To be sure the old Baylor property is quite nice and well-located (except for the parking lots and buildings), so perhaps the land is worth more per acre.  But it is really hard to come up to $157,000 an acre to make this deal pay-off, especially when considering the run down parking lots that have to be jack-hammered and removed, and the old clinic building will need demolition too. 

Another argument the City Council has advanced is that development of the property will add an economic boost to the area.  But is this true?  Just as likely as not if there is an economic activity generated from this project, it may just simply replace economic activity that would have occurred in elsewhere in the City.

It is important to ask the question why the old hospital property has remained undeveloped for so many years.  If the market supported a development project that would generate a fair return on investment, the old hospital and land would have been sold and developed years ago.  It wouldn’t be languishing one the City’s property rolls, generating nothing but costs.

And besides, we as taxpayers should not have to pay for the environmental clean-up of the property.  This was Baylor, Scott & White’s property.  They should be held responsible for the cost, not us. But the City Council declined to take my advice offered in several public meetings when they had the chance to give the hospital back to Baylor, Scott & White.   I certainly think we have better things to spend our money on, like our dilapidated streets for instance.

Paul Christenson is a candidate for Waxahachie City Council.