If the economy weren’t in such a shambles, the town of Preston might consider the former Norwich Hospital property a gold mine.
When the state abandoned the property 15 years ago, it left almost everything behind.
Since then, almost anything copper, from pipes to gutters to roof flashing and decorative panels, has been stolen.
In better economic times, the enameled cast-iron sinks, fixtures, decorative architectural elements, slate shingles and even the bricks that are parts of the 390-acre property’s 55 now-crumbling buildings, would all be of value and could be sold to offset the cost of redeveloping the sprawling campus.
Instead, the town, which bought the property from the state in 2009 for $1, is using three $200,000 federal grants to begin environmental remediation and demolition work at the site, which started last week.
Each of the grants is matched by $40,000 in town money.
With the first of the grants, Plainville-based Manafort Bros. Inc. will spend the next three weeks removing asbestos, lead paint and other environmental contaminants from the vast network of tunnels beneath the hospital property, beginning behind the grand administration building, built in 1904.
The building itself will be stabilized and weatherproofed.
“If it fits with anyone’s development plans, fine. If it doesn’t, it goes,” said Frank Ennis, property manager for the Preston Redevelopment Agency, which was created by the town to implement the redevelopment of the property.
The tunnels carried utilities, including steam pipes, water and electricity, to each building on campus and were spacious enough to be used to transport patients between buildings as well.
None of the copper pipe that once stretched throughout the tunnels remains. It’s all been stolen, Ennis said.
If all the copper pipes were still in the tunnels, it would probably be worth enough to pay for the remediation project, he said.
Across Route 12 from the administration building, the next $240,000 will be spent to clean up two “cottages” on the banks of a pond that was once the campus reservoir.
There’s asbestos, lead paint, PCBs, insecticides and all the other maladies familiar to industrial-era properties.
Preston’s Inland Wetlands Commission approved the demolition of the cottages this month.
The third grant will pay for the abatement of the Abraham Ribicoff building at the far southern end of the property.
Once clear of contaminants, Manafort has agreed to demolish the building for free in exchange for scrap material from the structure, which housed the campus morgue and other scientific facilities.
The same arrangement is in place for two large oil tanks on the east bank of the Thames River.
“It’s a big project,” said Michelle Lester, Manafort’s project manager at the site. She said crews would work quickly and move on to the cottages within a month and to the Ribicoff building by the end of May.
Once the nearly $600,000 in federal grant money is gone, the agency is on its own with more than 50 rapidly deteriorating, unabated buildings.
Ennis said the agency is busy applying for every grant it can.
“It’s a shame,” he said. “When the state walked away, think about the college campus this would have made for any one of the colleges around here.”
“That building used to be beautiful,” John Stuart, of Preston, said of the administration building. “The marble staircase. I don’t know if that’s still there. We used to go through the tunnels and to the movie theater. When you think of it now, it was kind of scary.”