Athens Review, Athens, Texas

February 20, 2013

Going from dormant to dazzling?

Old Henderson County Memorial Hospital building to become assisted-living facility

Rich Flowers
The Athens Review

Athens — The long-abandoned Henderson County Memorial Hospital building, which was near demolition a few years ago, may soon be converted into an assisted-living facility for veterans.

Kevin Hambrick, of Babit LLC, told the Athens City Council in a workshop on Wednesday that the building on Lindsey Drive “has an amazingly sound structure.”

His company plans to gut the inside, and completely redesign the 50,000-square-foot structure. Eventually 280 to 300 residents could be housed there.

Hambrick said the assisted-living facility will provide jobs for about 180 individuals, filling a variety of positions, like registered nurse, nurse practitoner, grounds keeper and janitor.

The Athens Zoning Commission voted on Tuesday to change the zoning on the hospital property from medical to multi-family residential, subject to approval by the city council. The council discussed the matter on Wednesday, and will likely put it to a vote at its regularly-scheduled meeting Monday.

Once the housing facility is open, it will be entered into the Veterans Administration database as a place available to veterans who receive a per-diem for housing. Hambrick said the residents will be screened carefully for their background and medical history.

“We will have access to the files of the individuals coming in,”  Hambrick said.

A background of drug abuse or a condition such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Alzheimer’s Disease would disqualify an applicant.

Hambrick said once the zoning question is settled, plans can be drawn, and the bidding process on the contstuction can begin.

The Memorial Hospital was built in 1948, and closed in 1982, following the construction of East Texas Medical Center. In 2007, the county paid more than $100,000 to have asbestos removed from the structure, a prerequisite to demolition.

In September,  2008, Commissioners Court met, expecting to award a bid for destruction of the building.  During a time set aside for citizen’s comments, Delbert Yelsma asked that the county halt plans to demolish the building, and allow him time to develop an alternative.

Commissioners decided to delay awarding a bid until Yelsma could explore the possible purchase.

In December, Yelsma returned to Commissioners Court with a bid of $50,000, and was awarded the property. Babit LLC acquired the property in 2012.