MOULTRIE -- Another hurdle has been jumped on the course to taking down the old Vereen Hospital.

A list of contractors from whom bids may be requested has been pared to 16, said Jim Lowry, administrator of Colquitt Regional Medical Center. Some 50 companies from as far away as Indiana and as close as Moultrie voiced an interest. Of those 31 prepared packages for review.

Both Moultrie City Council and Colquitt County Commission have approved that list. The task now is for the Colquitt County Hospital Authority, city council and county commission to decide more specifically who will be invited to bid.

The contract will include not only the demolition but removal of asbestos as well. Earlier this year, a steering committee made of city, county, hospital and other community leaders decided the two issues should not be separated but should be all in one project with one demolition firm responsible. That way, if some issue arose over the removal of hazardous materials, there can be no finger pointing between companies involved.

It was nearly two years ago that the steering committee first put the issue of the vacated building on the table. Technically it is owned by the hospital authority but the steering committee agreed that it is a community issue and should involve both county and city governments along with the authority.

Considerable due diligence was performed with Clarence Lowe, authority member, heading up the project. The panel had to determine if the old hospital, which served as a county governmental building for 30 years, had any other viable uses or if it should be torn down.

After an intensive search, no viable future use could be found. It was decided to tear it down.

Early on, Lowe said, "We don't want this to become another Swift building eyesore." Other members of the committee echoed those sentiments.

The Swift building remained in what appeared a bombed-out state on the city's northern entrance for many years before it finally was demolished. The old hospital sits on South Main Street.

Lots of cost numbers have been tossed around in the past two years as the panel sought resolution to this issue. It was early estimated to be a $1 million project.

At the last meeting of the steering group, city and county officials said they could not commit to the project until they had a firm figure. Even then they said "money is tight."

County Commission Chairman Max Hancock said he felt the county had a responsibility in helping with the project but that he didn't see any funds coming from future ad valorem taxes, but rather from reserves. He pointed out that the county got a bargain in rent on that building for nearly three decades.

City Councilman Cecil Barber, who lives just down the street from the structure, said people in that neighborhood are concerned about the property becoming a target for vandals and vagrants.

But he also voiced concern about where the money would come from on the city's side.

"Maybe we could offer in-kind services," he said of the city.

Moultrie Mayor Bill McIntosh pointed out that once the building is torn down, it will be the city's forever to develop and maintain under the present plans.

"It's in the heart of the city and it's important to us. But we are strapped for funds ... we are limited on where we can get revenues," he said.

One suggestion has been to make the site a community park. Another was to sell it for development to recoup the costs of demolition.

County Commissioner Billy Herndon said he was concerned about it becoming a park.

"We already have parks that are dangerous to drive by," he said.

Meanwhile, City Manager Bob Hopkins said the chances are "slim and none" to get any federal monies for this project.

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