Our view: No vacancy
Last week, officials and architects from The Memorial Hospital unveiled the first look at renderings and plans of a sparkling new facility in development west of town to largely positive reviews from the public.
The plans and conceptual drawings gave the public - which paved the way for a new hospital by approving an increased mill levy in November 2007 - a look at what lies in wait a year and a half from now, when construction of the facility is finished.
However, that 18-month timeframe is not only critical to the new hospital, but also to the current Russell Street facility. TMH and county officials have from now until the opening of the new facility to decide what will become of the Russell Street facility.
That's if they hope to avoid one of the pitfalls the Editorial Board wants to steer clear of - leaving the building vacant.
Built in 1950, the Russell Street building has admirably served TMH, its patients and, later, the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, which currently occupies the building's south end.
The Editorial Board agrees with TMH officials and voters who supported the new hospital project that the current hospital building is antiquated and has significant flaws - primary among them the lack of expansion capabilities and code/safety issues - and a new facility is needed.
But, the board believes the Russell Street building still has life left in it, and if there's a chance the 76,000-square-foot building can be salvaged and put to another use for the community's betterment, it's worth exploring.
It also should be pointed out that the building is an anchor of the neighborhood around it, and leaving it vacant or tearing it down could blight the area.
So far, publicly discussed options for the building have included using the building for assisted living, adult day care, senior wellness, community-based programs, allowing the VNA to expand into it and, in perhaps the least desirable of all options, demolition.
The Editorial Board believes these are worthwhile ideas, and it has a few of its own.
Namely, turning the building over to the Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership and letting the organization see what interest from outside business enterprises there is in the building, or simply the VNA.
A prolonged haggling about a sale price for the building runs the risk of taking too much time, turning off potential tenants and losing an opportunity to acquire new services, a new business and expanded tax base, and possibly leaving the building empty.
To their credit, hospital officials already have begun soliciting public feedback regarding potential new uses of the building, and the Editorial Board encourages the public to participate in the process.
In this situation, the only bad idea is having no ideas at all.
We hope the decision-makers involved consider the fate of the Russell Street building with the same care and deliberation that has gone into the new hospital.
At this point, there is little reason to believe both buildings can't be useful to the community.