MOULTRIE -- Now that the governmental building has reverted ownership back to Colquitt Regional Medical Center, the hospital authority is trying to figure out what to do with the old building that once served as Vereen Memorial Hospital.

The federal government, the City of Moultrie and the W.C. Vereen family chipped in $50,000 each to put up capital to build the county hospital and to initially put the staff to work in 1939.

The building remained a working hospital until 1974, when Colquitt Regional Medical Center opened down the street. CRMC then turned the building over to the county to house its governmental offices, which occupied the building until just over a month ago.

CRMC has no use for the building, Administrator Jim Lowry said. The hospital board doesn't want to sell it to the highest bidder, rather, it seeks to find a use that will benefit the community, he said.

"If there's some real value for that building, let's do some due diligence and let's find it," Lowry said. "This building has been a tremendous beautiful lady for our community for 60 years; let's get the best utilization of that land."

The hospital authority met with realtors last week to determine which direction to go. Local realtor Kirk Friedlander, who attended the meeting, said the building would be hard to sell, considering costly environmental problems and old wiring.

"I think the highest and best use for it is to tear it down. I know it's a landmark. I was born there -- a lot of people in Moultrie and Colquitt have a lot of memories in that building. But it's outlived its useful life as far as real estate goes," Friedlander said.

CRMC Hospital Authority Chairman Clarence Lowe said that one realtor indicated to him that two prospects may be interested in the building and the property.

"If the realtors don't have anything to offer us, we don't seem to have any great interest anywhere else," Lowe said.

Given its location in a residential section and its close proximity to the bike trail, Lowry said the site would be a great place to build a park.

Lowe said if a portion of the building can be saved, the authority would to do so.

"If we tear it all down and make a park out of it, then that's all expense," he said.

Friedlander likes the idea of a park in the back part of the seven-acre property and can envision a mixed use for the front part, perhaps townhouses, he said.

"It's in a great location, but the way it stands now. I don't see anybody taking it and rehabing it in the state that it's in. It would cost way too much money," he said, adding that buildings left vacant deteriorate quickly.

Authority member Anne Carlton said the Georgia Real Estate Trust is overwhelmed by the building's size but may be interested in the front part -- the older part -- of the building. It's too early to tell which way the Georgia Trust is leaning, Carlton said.

The building has been presented to the president of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College for possible use by ABAC on the Square. ABAC has yet to indicate any interest, Lowry said.

If part or all of the building does have to come down, the authority would like the county to contribute in-kind demolition labor with the exception of around $200,000 worth of asbestos removal which must be done by specialists. County Commission Chairman Max Hancock said the county is considering the request.

"It appears to me personally it's a county-wide problem, if you will. We all share in that since it is a county hospital. I don't know how the remainder of the board would feel, but I would hope we would be able to assist them in some way," Hancock said.

Moultrie Observer Publisher Dwain Walden, who serves on a steering committee to explore ideas for the facility, noted that most of the walls are load-bearing, which would seem to limit what could be done with all those tiny rooms.

"You can't just go in there and tear out walls without factoring in an exhorbitant amount of renovation costs," said Walden.

Walden said the facility has served the community well.

"I have two special memories of Vereen Memorial. My son was born there, and I had a kidney stone episode there," he added.

The hospital authority is asking the public to contact Lowry, Lowe or Walden with what they might consider viable alternatives for the former hospital.

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