Sunday, June 27, 2010

Norwich Hospital is another lesson in historic preservation; will we learn this time?

The deterioration of the century-old Norwich Hospital campus, so well documented in Ed Mahony's news story in Sunday's Hartford Courant and amplified in an accompanying opinion piece by Tom Condon, is a devastating lesson on what can go wrong when a government – in this case, the state of Connecticut – ignores or skimps on the preservation of its historic properties.

For those of us in Hartford, it's a bit of déjà vu, since we just endured the destruction of the remaining walls of the historic Second North School on High Street, which had deteriorated while the city and its contractor dithered on incorporating them into a new public safety complex on the site. (For more on that, see preservationist Bill Hosley's May 9 op-ed piece, also in the Courant.)

When it comes to state buildings, Condon calls on the legislature to create a protocol for maintaining the ones that are historic but not in use at the moment. ''Let's start with the premise that when the state builds a building, it takes responsibility for the structure from cradle to grave, groundbreaking to cleanup," he writes. But here's his most important point:

The key to saving historic buildings is to use them. Time is of the essence. If a building is judged surplus, and no other agency wants it, don't wait for it to be closed, get started. Assess the environmental situation and start the remediation.


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