(Editor’s Note: The story was reprinted with permission of The Times Leader.)
Barnesville Mayor Dale Bunting announced that WVU Medicine Barnesville Hospital will not be going ahead with plans to lease the village-owned Bohandy Building, ending a year of efforts by village officials and hospital administration.
The hospital has decided to go a different route, so we’re going to go our way here now. We really appreciate them working with us, and maybe we’ll have an opportunity again to work with them and see what we can do, so I want to thank them and thank you guys for working together and maybe we can get something else going pretty quick down there and move on," a disappointed Bunting said.
Bunting made the announcement during a regular council meeting last week, thanking members of council, Community Development Director Bill Knox as well as Barnesville Hospital President and CEO Dave Phillips and Chief Nursing Director Cindy Touvelle for the work they did on the project.
"We’ve been working real hard. You guys have been putting in a lot of hours and doing a lot of hard work down there," Bunting added.
The village purchased the Bohandy Building, which occupies a prominent space on the corner of East Main and South Chestnut streets in the heart of downtown Barnesville, in May 2018 for $150,000.
Village officials approved emergency spending soon after to make repairs to the decaying masonry and roof of the 100-year-old structure, citing a need to ensure public safety by saving the building from potential collapse.
In December 2018, Bunting announced that the village and the hospital had entered into a lease agreement for the hospital to occupy the building. No indication was given at that time given as to what use the building would have.
In the ensuing months, Barnesville Hospital entered into a management agreement with WVU Medicine, becoming part of a network of area hospitals affiliated with West Virginia University, including Wheeling Hospital. Phillips has said Barnesville Hospital remains independent with its own board of directors, but he has become an employee of WVU Medicine.
At a council meeting held Nov. 12, representatives from Barnesville Hospital, Crossroads Counseling and the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Belmont County addressed council concerning the possibility of locating an eight-bed addiction recovery facility in the building using federal grant funds.
During the meeting held Nov. 25, village officials recommitted themselves to the project in response to a letter from Phillips that contained the outline of a structure under which the hospital wished to proceed with the project, including a penalty should the target occupancy of May 1, 2020, not be realized as well as a threat to withdraw from the relationship should the village prove unable or unwilling to concur.
That letter also stated that the hospital board of directors was frustrated with the progress on the building, citing "breakdowns in communication, changes in direction, and inconsistent leadership" on the part of the village.
On Wednesday Phillips stated that the decision to abandon the project was made due to finances, saying that in the early stages of the project they had preliminary estimates as to what it would cost to get the building ready. However, revised quotes for renovations that would be required to locate the recovery facility in the building were considerably higher, and the hospital board had decided it was "not financially prudent to continue" with the plans.
Phillips commended village officials for all they did through the process.