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City not interested in swap

by Larry Patrick

WALSENBURG- Walsenburg City Councilwoman Erin Jerant told the Walsenburg Care Center Administrator, Bob Grabowski that, “the City can’t just swap land for crap.”  She was referring to the Walsenburg Care Center building on W. 7th Street.

    The owners of the care center has proposed the city swapping four acres of land near the Youth Camp, next to the hospital, for the property as is, in Walsenburg.  Mayor Bruce Quintana tried to soften Jerant’s remark by telling Grabowski that the City of Walsenburg is interested in working to get something done but that the building could contain asbestos or lead paint and be expensive for the City to have to tear it down.  Jerant said she wants the building leveled and hauled away by the owners of the Walsenburg Care Center.  Mayor Quintana said he wanted an equitable trade.  The exchanges took place at the Finance committee meeting Monday night.

    The cost of tearing down the building if it contained asbestos and/or lead paint could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The City asked Grabowski to talk to the owners about paying for testing for contamination.  The feeling is if that hurdle can be made and if the City can get the four acres of land from the State of Colorado, which is leasing it long term from the City, then a new nursing home and assisted living center could be built.  The proposed facility would have 40 beds plus a 10 unit assisted living facility to go with it. 

    Grabowski admitted that they have outgrown the facility and that the building is, “falling down around us.”  But he argued that there is value to the City in having a brand new facility that employs 50 people.  Jerant wanted to know how many of his current employees lived locally.  Grabowski didn’t know for sure but said most of them do.

    The Walsenburg Care Center administrator told city and county officials last week that the owners are tired of putting good money after bad into the old facility.  They want a decision by the City to move forward on land near the hospital by the end of this month or the owners may look elsewhere.  He emphasized that the owners want to stay in Walsenburg but that efforts to get land has dragged on and something must be done soon.

    Jerant asked Grabowski, “your company has big bucks, don’t they?

    Grabowski countered that they are a non-profit company that doesn’t have lots of money.  “If they did, they would have done this sooner.”

    Councilman Craig Lessar questioned the recent survey by the State on the facility and asked if the nursing home was in danger of closing.  Grabowski said the facility is going to close one way or the other, either a new facility is built in Walsenburg or it could be built somewhere else.  Mayor Quintana said he hoped that Grabowski understood that the City wants to help the care center out.

    Councilman James Moore says the city needs to have their attorney look at agreements the hospital had done to build their facility on land leased to the state by Walsenburg.  Moore said we have to get that approved before we can move forward.

    If the owners of the Walsenburg Care Center are unwilling to pay for a study on contamination or if they are unwilling to tear the structure down at their expense, the City will have some hard decisions to make.  They don’t want to spend lots of money to tear down a contaminated building for a parking lot nor do they want to risk losing 50 more jobs and a long time business in the Walsenburg community.  Both sides are hopeful a solution can be found soon.